|Seijin No Hi Coming of Age
Author: Tintinnabula PM
Written for the KakaSaku Fan Club's "Classy" Fanart contest, for Leona101's winning entry, "Alain Chatier." Kakashi asked Sakura to meet him at the shrine. Demanded it, actually. But he's AWOL. Are Sakura's thoughts of love misplaced, too? One shotRated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Kakashi H. & Sakura H. - Words: 8,013 - Reviews: 67 - Favs: 139 - Follows: 10 - Published: 06-24-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5163690
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Seijin no hi--Coming of Age
Disclaimer: Naruto and associated characters are owned by Masashi Kishimoto. No money will be made from or is planned to be made from this work of fan fiction.
Author's note: This story was written in honor of Leona101's first place finish in the KakaSaku Fan Club's "Classy" Fan Art contest, organized by the amazing ModerndayPortia. Each entry was based on a piece of art, but transformed into a Naruto context. Leona's entry was the famous Alain Chartier by Edmund Blair Leighton. Leona's work, and the original can be found at the Kakasaku FC's forum page and on her Deviant Art page. See my author page for direct links, and while you're at it, check out all of the amazing contest entries. The talent on display is considerable!
I am not sure that this story measures up to Leona's amazing work. It took my breath away when I saw it, and it was a pleasure to write the backstory for it. With all this in mind, I hope you enjoy the story.
Seijin no Hi
Coming of Age
"Can we sit for a minute?"
Sakura made her way to the stone bench flanking the hundred-odd weathered steps to Konohagakure's oldest shrine and looked around the vicinity as casually as possible before taking a seat on the rough-hewn granite slab. She sighed. She'd guessed he would be delayed, or forget, or suddenly develop icy cold extremities, but she'd hoped otherwise.
"We're not even there yet. I'm hungry, Sakura-chaaaaaaaan!" Naruto's voice had the whining, childish quality it usually took on when the jinchuuriki was denied food. Visions of dango, takoyaki, grilled fish and every other conceivable form of festival food were surely dancing before his eyes. And if Sakura wasn't mistaken, she'd heard his stomach growl several times in the past few minutes. It didn't help that the smell of grilled food wafted toward them occasionally. Even she was getting hungry.
"I know, but my feet hurt. I had a twelve hour shift yesterday, and I'm not used to these shoes." She lifted her kimono slightly to show her zouri. She rarely wore thong-based shoes, and these were cutting into the narrow space between her big toe and the others. And these shoes were taller in height-- almost platform shoes-- than anything she'd worn before. She was having trouble balancing.
"You look beautiful, Sakura." Despite his years-long relationship with Hinata, Sakura could still hear the tinge of adoration in his voice. First loves die hard, she guessed. Not that she'd ever done anything to lead him on. He just wasn't her type, she'd realized as he'd grown out of his annoying phase and into the more-capable-than-any-other-ninja-in-Konoha one. As far as romance was concerned, she preferred men who were more quiet, more reserved. And laid back. She was grateful for Naruto's support, however. His positive outlook never failed to chase away any shadows she might be feeling. Sakura returned the friendly, open smile of her long time friend.
"Ino wouldn't let me leave my apartment without a full makeover. But I don't mind-- it's a special day, isn't it? "
"You got that right! It's time to parteeee!"
"It's ten a.m.," the relatively level-headed Shikamaru interrupted. "If you don't play it cool, no one will sell us alcohol at this hour, whether we're legal or not." He turned toward Ino and carefully brushed a stray lock of hair from her flawless face. "Are you coming or not? If we're not careful, this one might go all kyuubi on us." Shikamaru smirked as his words had their intended effect. He loved to rile the future leader of the village.
"You guys go on ahead," Ino intervened. "We'll catch up with you in a bit." She plopped down on the bench next to Sakura and removed her zouri as well.
"So what's going on?" the blonde asked shrewdly after the others had left. Sakura noticed that her friend's turquoise eyes were lit with the intense glow often seen when a detail overlooked by others caught her attention. Trust Konoha's reigning gossip queen to smell the subtle fragrance of fresh budding news.
"Nothing. I'm just tired. And honestly I'm not in the mood to deal with crowds today."
"But you look great-- almost as nice as me. Don't you want everyone to see how good you look?" Ino looked menacingly at her longtime friend and sometime rival. "Besides, after all that time I spent on your hair, you'd better be coming to the festival. This is our day, after all."
"Just a couple of minutes, okay, Ino?"
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were waiting for someone."
"Well, I'm not," Sakura replied, perhaps a bit too emphatically. She attempted to cover with an unlikely giggle. "Whom would I possibly be waiting for?"
Ino chuckled. "Yeah, you're right. Your love life is as much of a desert as it ever was. Which is why you need to come with me." She dragged Sakura to her feet, and headed toward the main street of Konoha, where the festival stalls had been assembled overnight.
The Festival of the New Leaf was the village's biggest annual festival, combining a recognition of the end of planting with the yearly celebration of coming of age. As Ino, Sakura and most of their cohort had turned twenty-one since the last festival, this day was a particularly special occasion, their opportunity to be recognized by the community as adults ready to take on all rights and responsibilities of fully grown villagers.
The male members of their crew planned on spending the day drunk. It was their first legal opportunity to do so, the town elders having decided it more effective to grant this privilege to a new crop of adults once a year rather than on individual birthdays. Not that they hadn't tried alcohol before. The drinking age in Sand was 15 and in Ame, 16. Even in Konoha it was easy enough to get beer if one knew who to ask and if one consumed it discreetly. But for Naruto, Shikamaru, Chouji, Kiba and even Shino, today was the day to get publicly toasted, fully inebriated on Konoha sake, known around the continent for its high proof and easy finish.
The girls planned to take things more slowly. They would spend the day playing the traditional games offered at the various stalls, sampling food and maybe a bit of sake, but they'd stay sober until after the ceremony. They were just Ino and Sakura-- Ten Ten and Hinata were born a year prior, and had gone through their coming of age day the previous April. With just the two of them, there was little chance of things getting out of control. As Ino pointed out, Sakura was too stick-in-the-mud for that. The blonde, as usual, had taken command of the planning, deciding months before that they should go all out, fashion-wise, to show the men of the village the prime goods that had come onto the market. Sakura had winced at these words-- she had no desire to parade herself like a side of beef before the town's eligible males. Beyond lack of desire, there was no need. She already knew just whom she wanted. But there was no stopping her friend.
Ino bullied her parents into buying her a lovely violet tomesode kimono and had urged a recalcitrant Sakura to do the same. Despite her well-hidden intelligence, Ino seemed to have no head for finances. Surely she knew Sakura was on a very tight budget-- she was supporting her mom, after all-- and couldn't afford luxuries like garments that were meant to be worn only once. A simple silk kimono was prohibitively expensive, and a tomesode was too far out of reach to even consider. They were handmade, from the stenciling, yuzen dyeing and embroidery of the fabric, to its stitching into a completed garment, and required an obi of equal beauty and similar cost. Sakura had no idea how Ino's parents were able to afford the ensemble they'd purchased for their daughter. They weren't rich either. Apart from the main branch of the Hyuuga clan, no shinobi family was wealthy, even if they had a side business to make ends meet. But Ino was always a bit spoiled, particularly by her father. She could wrap him around her finger like a wet ramen noodle. So she often did.
Kakashi had come to Sakura's rescue, as he so often did of late. Upon listening for the fourth or fifth time to Sakura's complaints about Ino's nagging, he'd quietly mentioned that he had a kimono or two packed away in a cedar chest. They were his mother's and they were old, but certainly one of them might suit her, if she didn't mind wearing something second-hand. On her next visit, a carefully-wrapped package was waiting for her on the kotatsu, and Sakura eagerly tore through the cloth like mulberry paper that covered the oblong bundle.
She gasped when she saw the kimono. It was in a deep carmine red, her favorite color, and of the finest silk she'd ever touched. It flowed under her fingers as though it were made of liquid, not mere cloth. She held the garment up and stared at its long, fluttering sleeves gape-mouthed. The gold embroidery shimmered, the carefully couched branches and leaves seemingly disturbed by an unexpected breeze. And the obi-- it was breathtakingly elegant although simple, a perfect foil to the intense red of the kimono and a match to her unusual pink hair. The garment was far lovelier than Ino's and most likely much more expensive. Its extra length-- it was meant to trail slightly behind the wearer-- suggested it had been made for the most important of occasions or for a very important person. She could see an entertainer in such an outfit, or a visiting dignitary: the garment had an aura of rarity to it.
She realized right away that he had lied to her.
The kimono didn't smell musty, the way clothes in storage often did, nor of camphor, and it didn't have the creases garments took on when they'd been stored for years and years, even when well-wrapped with tissue paper. And when she examined the kimono more closely, she noticed its golden embroidery hadn't tarnished. It should have. Kakashi's mother had died years before. He'd told her that much, as he pointed out her grave one afternoon on a visit to the cemetery. Sakura had noted the date: she'd been gone nineteen years. Sakura doubted this garment belonged to that woman, or that it was anywhere near that old. The condition of the fabric was just too good. It was so like Kakashi to make up such a story to keep her from misinterpreting the nature of their relationship.
But what was there to misinterpret? They were in limbo and had been for some time.
She felt something between them, and had for months. She was certain he felt it, too. The way he looked at her when he thought she wasn't looking, the small things he did for her unasked, his habit of showing up unannounced at her door: all of these were things people did when they had feelings for another.
Certainly they were more than former teammates. They were friends, and their relationship had grown ever stronger since the destruction of Konoha. She'd taken care of him then, tending his wounds after he carried Naruto back to the village, seeing for the first time the human side of her usually irascible former teacher. He, in turn, had discovered her excellent, though usually hidden sense of humor. It matched his in wryness and love of irony, and both realized that they possessed the same sublime sense of the absurd.
They discovered they had more in common, as well. Both loved to read, although their taste in books could not have been more polarized, and both loved to laze under the cool shade of a densely leaved tree on hot summer afternoons. Perhaps most importantly both could go for long periods without feeling the need to make idle conversation. Neither prattled, a rare trait in a village full of talkers. A lake of companionable silence often surrounded the pair, its smooth surface undisturbed for hours.
Increasingly they spent time together, often doing nothing together besides sharing the same space. Or they might watch TV. They had similar tastes there as well, both preferring old movies to serialized dramas or inane situation comedies. They spent many evenings together, although they never formalized these meetings by bothering to discuss them ahead of time. One would simply show up on the other's doorstop, with a carton of takeout and a six-pack of beer, to be ushered inside with no remark of surprise or inconvenience.
As they both led solitary lives, the idea of inconvenience did not apply. Neither entertained much. Sakura's shifts at the hospital meant she returned home close to closing time, and Kakashi simply kept to himself. But they lived in the same apartment complex, and it was easy to see when the other was home. Kakashi often turned up on her doorstep minutes after she returned home, takeout in hand, and she often knocked on his door when she couldn't sleep. He always seemed to be awake on those evenings. Again, not much happened on these impromptu visits. One would invite the other in, and they might converse briefly, but typically not too many words passed between them. To an outsider it might have looked as though they had both come to the silent conclusion that it would be more comfortable to be alone together. It was pathetic to drink in solitude, of course, or to sit night after night in a restaurant with only a book as reading partner. And sitting across from someone made the same actions infinitely more acceptable, even if no interaction occurred.
But if they had intended to be "alone together," it hadn't worked out that way. This was proven when either took extended missions away from the village. Neither would mention that the other would be missed, but upon returning the look of pleasure on both of their faces spoke the truth, saying wordlessly what they were both reluctant to admit.
They were comfortable together, quite comfortable, and both were unwilling to upset the status quo.
But on Sakura's last birthday just one month prior, things had changed. Kakashi had bought her a gift-- the first time he'd ever done so, and the copy ninja had looked anxious-- a look Sakura had never seen before--as she tore into its wrapping paper. It was nothing really, just a fairly impersonal set of kunai in plain carbon steel. That's what he told her. But when she held each tentatively in her hands, she noticed that the undecorated weapons were perfectly balanced, and a far cry from those she already owned. They were obviously custom made. That explained the glove that had gone missing weeks before. He'd probably given it to the artisan to use as some kind of pattern.
In the moments that followed, the unwrapping of this gift she felt sure he was going to kiss her. The air hung with the charged sensation one feels just before lightning is about to strike, and she'd glanced at his hands to make sure that he wasn't in the midst of weaving his lightning blade jutsu.
But nothing had come of that moment. The electricity dissipated like electrons into the ether, and things went back to normal. Sakura wasn't forced to consider the impact of a change in their relationship, and neither was Kakashi. Things went back to normal. Almost normal. Sakura felt a charge every now and then, each time she inadvertently brushed his hand or moved too close to him. And she felt it even more strongly when he accidentally touched her.
"What are you thinking about? I swear, you're in another world today."
"I said, let's go catch some fish."
They were standing right in front of that booth, Sakura realized, and Ino had already purchased several small nets. Her friend quickly dipped into the trough of water holding scores of the tiny fish, immediately plucking from the water a tiny creature with scales like liquid rubies.
Sakura had no such luck. Her mind kept drifting, and by the time she righted its errant course the tissue paper of the festival-style net was crumbled to pulpy shreds.
"Let me." Ino shoved her aside and quickly pulled out another piscine specimen, this one piebald and larger than the last. "Our koi pond is empty. The cat got to them. These ones should be a good replacement, even though they're so tiny. Maybe they'll be able to outswim her. Hey. Are you even listening to me, forehead?"
"Sorry. Crap. I just realized I left my purse back at the shrine. I'd better go get it."
Ino sighed. It was just like her to make a big deal of any generous act. There would be a price to pay for this show of patience, Sakura knew. "Fine. I'll wait here. I need a few more fish, anyway. But hurry back. I'm getting hungry, and I'm sure Hinata, Tent en and the boys will want to meet us for lunch."
"Okay," Sakura shouted over her shoulder as she sped away. Her purse wouldn't be at the shrine, because she hadn't left it there. In truth, she wasn't carrying one today. The long sleeves of her kimono were the perfect place to store money, a compact and the like.
But losing her purse was a convenient excuse to visit the shrine again: Ino's benign self-centeredness made it highly unlikely that she'd realize her friend hadn't carried any accessories this morning. Sakura was hopeful that Kakashi might have finally arrived at their agreed upon meeting place. He was late due to the mission: that was the most plausible reason for his delay. Missions often ran late, even simple recon ones like the one he was finishing today. And when Kakashi was involved, they usually did. He was known for dragging into town days late, typically wounded or exhausted. He seemed to be a magnet for every enemy of the village intent on proving his mettle. They sought him out.
But more important than her hope was the fact that he had promised he would meet her there, precisely at ten a.m. He'd made a big deal of it, in fact, as much as he was capable of doing, given his laconic nature. He'd made her promise, too, not giving in until she agreed that she'd be at the shrine-- the one they'd visited together, flanked by two stone benches-- no later than ten a.m.. When she'd laughed at him, accusing him of being incapable of keeping that bargain himself, he'd actually gotten angry, though quite briefly. This was yet another signal to her that something was up.
"Okay, I'll be there. With bells on," she'd placated him.
"Good. You won't regret it."
With that cryptic promise he'd picked up his pack and left on his three day mission, solo of course, as he preferred. She'd had plenty of time to ponder his rather emphatic statement, but no matter how she analyzed it, she reached the same conclusion. Kakashi was going to tell her something big. Something about them.
This forced her to consider the idea of the two of them, as a couple that is, and after a thorough analysis she'd decided that they'd do well together.
She'd never been in love, not real, adult love but she had an inkling of how it might feel. Her emotions towards Kakashi weren't of the overwhelming, sleep-depriving variety she had experienced as a pubescent twelve year old, her mind and body overflowing with newly-minted hormones. This differed completely for what she'd once felt for Sasuke. This was a quieter emotion, more peaceful and deep. Sakura wasn't sure if she loved Kakashi-- not yet. But she knew that it just might be possible.
She therefore had no qualms about meeting him as he'd demanded. She looked forward to it, in fact.
It was the village's probable reaction that gave her pause.
She knew a commotion would follow once the village learned about them. Every new relationship seemed to set the gossip machine churning. Sakura expected horrible behavior from Naruto in particular. She imagined his eyes bulging from his head, his fox-like whiskers darkened with Kyuubi intensity as the news slowly sank into his overly thick head. Even though he was with Hinata, and had been since the fall of the village, Konoha's likely next hokage was quite possessive of his former teammate. He'd pop a blood vessel if he saw her and Kakashi together, or vent the demonic chakra he usually held in check.
Sakura laughed as she considered one possible outcome. She and Kakashi might end up barbecued. Yaki-shinobi, glazed with shoyu and mirin.
And then there were the gossips, with Ino as their ringleader. Sakura did not delude herself by thinking that the blonde would go easy on her for the sake of their friendship. Rather, she knew that this would make the news all the more juicy-- Ino would have first hand, eyewitness knowledge to share with all listeners. She'd make up all sorts of facts to entertain her hangers on.
Sakura knew Kakashi wouldn't do anything crazy-- not in public. If he was interested in her, he would tell her quietly. This would allow them to hide their relationship from the peering eyes of their friends and colleagues. But keeping secrets did not fit what she knew about Kakashi. He didn't care what others thought. He'd graduated from that phase of his life over twenty years prior, as evidenced by the fact that he devoured lurid pornographic novels in public, making no effort to hide his obvious enjoyment as he read and re-read certain dog eared pages, attention rapt.
All of this was moot, however. It was almost noon, and he wasn't at their designated meeting place. Sakura looked around the forlorn, slightly run-down grounds and wondered why Kakashi had chosen this particular shrine. It was popular with the most elderly demographic of the village because it was one of the few buildings that had survived Pein's destruction of Konoha, but that was its only claim to distinction. It's dragon-infested woodwork was inferior in style to the modern shrine across town, and the gold covering the beasts had long since eroded away. Perhaps this place held some secret meaning to him. Or perhaps it was its relative desolation that attracted him. She smiled as she realized that this must be it. Whatever he had to tell her was meant for her ears alone.
Sakura carefully gauged the amount of time she could remain there without invoking Ino's formidable wrath, then headed back to her closest friend. Ino was waiting for her, a glowering look upon her face and hands on her hip.
"Someone stole it, huh?" She glanced at Sakura's empty hands before continuing. "You are so scatterbrained lately." Ino looked at her friend appraisingly. "Is there something you're not telling me?" She steered Sakura in the direction of the food stalls as she spoke. "You're not--" She paused as she examined Sakura again, with the practiced gaze of a matchmaker.
"I'm not what--"
"Never mind. It's ridiculous."
"That you'd be seeing someone."
Sakura blushed and the color deepened as she realized Ino might take this as an affirmation of her statement. She quickly lashed out in an effort to cover her body's reflexive response.
"Is that so hard to believe? Ino, sometimes you are the most callous, insensitive pig of a person! Why would you say something like that? Why would you think it?"
"Settle down, forehead. The only reason I said it is because I would know if you were seeing someone."
"You're not all knowing, porkchop."
Ino laughed. "When it comes to this town, I am. Between my mom and my grandmother and me, we know everything that's going on. Remember when I broke the news about Yamato and Iruka?"
How could she forget? News of their tryst had spread like winter flu among the village, and the surprise it evoked was considerable. Not because of the nature of the relationship-- no one really cared about that. Ninja, it was generally felt, should avail themselves of whatever and whomever they liked when it came to recreation. Given the short, brutish nature of their lives, that was only fair.
No, the secret relationship between Yamato and Iruka started tongues wagging because it revealed two other prime pieces of gossip to be complete fabrications-- specifically, two juicy rumors about the long time, smoldering yaoi affair between either Kakashi and Yamato, or Kakashi and Iruka (depending on who was telling the tale).
Sakura and the presumably twice-jilted lover had a good laugh over these allegations. At least he was seme in both scenarios, Kakashi had pointed out, and at least Gai's name hadn't come up. It was better, Kakashi had then said, than that rumor, or the other one that had been floating around for years-- the one that said he was completely asexual apart from his known bibliophilia.
These rumors had shown Sakura that the copy ninja really did not care what others said about him. He was completely secure in his sexuality, and in every other aspect of his personality. That added tremendously to his appeal, she realized. Self confidence was an incredibly attractive trait.
"You were also the person who said Kakashi was gay," Sakura said now.
"And who says he isn't? Just because he isn't involved with either of those two doesn't mean anything. The man doesn't date. And you're his--"
The smolder in Sakura's eyes must have stopped Ino, because she backed away slightly, her loose lips suddenly clamped shut.
"His what, Ino?"
"Shikamaru! Chouji! Naruto! Kiba!" Ino sped toward the quintet sitting slouched in a corner of the dining pavilion.
"You forgot Shino," the bug user muttered to himself before lifting a huge glass mug of beer to his lips. "But what else is new?"
"You saved us a seat! Thanks so much!" Ino parked herself between her boyfriend and Naruto and safely out of harm's way, smiled sweetly at Sakura.
"You've already eaten."
"Had to. Needed something to soak up the beer." Naruto patted his bloated belly. "I could definitely go for some more takoyaki if you're going to be heading over there, though."
"Sure. Is there anything else I can do for you?" Sakura's sarcasm was lost on Naruto and the rest of the party.
"Beer me, Sakura." Well, that wasn't going to happen. Shino was about to slide under the table.
"Beer here, too. Hell, just bring a pitcher."
"I'm not going to order for you, Ino."
"Sexist. You're doing it for everyone else!"
Sakura returned to the table some fifteen minutes later, her tray loaded down with food and drink. Her tablemates were busy discussing Kakashi, she immediately realized. And her as well. Engrossed as they were in their analysis of the jounin's sexual life, none of them noticed Sakura, despite the smell of grilled food saturating the air around them.
"I'm telling you, he's gay."
"Sakura says he's not. And she knows him best, I think we can all agree on that." She could have been ten meters away and still heard Naruto's almost shouted words, punctuated freely with dattebayos.
"That doesn't mean she's telling the truth. If he was gay, do you think she'd share that with us?" She hadn't realized Kiba was a bit of a gossip monger. At least Shino was keeping his mouth shut, although that wasn't unexpected.
"Well, obviously he doesn't want anyone to know. She's his fag--"
"You don't have to be rude, Ino." It seemed like Naruto was the only one taking Kakashi's side. And her side.
"I'm not being rude. She'll never land a man as long as she keeps hanging around with him."
"Maybe it's none of your business, Ino." Shikamaru seemed to have had enough, as well. He blushed crimson as he looked up and noticed the object of their discussion standing across from him, and his normal ennui swept aside by embarrassment. "Funny that Kakashi-sensei hasn't shown up today, you know, Sakura?"
"He's not back yet," she murmured.
"Yes, he is. I saw him this morning, as I was opening the shop. He had his pack on, and he looked beat, but he was in a hurry. He barely stopped to say hello. In fact, he looked surprised to see me. Sit down. Let me take that tray, okay? " Ino seemed frantic to divert the conversation from its earlier topic.
Sakura couldn't stop her face from falling. If Kakashi was back... where was he?
She slumped in her chair, picked up a skewer of dango, then dropped it back on her plate. The food, which had seemed tantalizingly delicious only moments ago, might as well be plastic models. Her appetite was completely gone. She ignored the loud sounds of munching and gulping around her, instead focusing her energies on understanding the man she thought she knew so well.
She hadn't allowed herself to consider cold feet as the reason he hadn't shown up today. There were many other more reasonable explanations: the mission had run long, he'd lost track of time, even that he might have been injured. But his reason for not meeting her that morning was now clear. Whatever it was that he'd planning to tell her, he'd decided against it. He was probably holed up right now in his apartment, and had been all morning, intent on avoiding her. No wonder he'd hurried home. He'd been doing his best to avoid her.
But he could have shown up at their meeting place anyway, and foregone telling her whatever it was he had planned to say. He hadn't told her why he wanted to meet her-- she'd inferred it was to tell her something. But that wasn't necessarily true. He could have just shown up and acted like nothing was amiss: she would have been none the wiser.
She had no explanation for this sudden change in his behavior. He'd never avoided her before. Sakura felt the first chilled drops of disappointment strike her psyche as she wondered just what had happened.
Maybe with a few days to himself he'd come to his senses. It was obvious to her that he'd been comfortable in the lifestyle he'd led before they started spending time together. It was hard to break free of ingrained habits, especially antisocial ones. And perhaps, given the chance to breathe freely he'd come to the conclusion that she'd been suffocating him.
Or maybe everything she'd felt had been one-sided, and he just saw her as a friend. He might be at home sleeping right now, unaware of the importance she'd placed on the meeting he'd set up. Perhaps his plans had been far more casual than she'd understood. It was like Kakashi to forget minor things: his bills were never paid on time, though not for want of funds. He was just "time challenged," as he'd euphemistically put it-- life's less important matters tended to slip his mind.
It was slightly humiliating to see just where she stood in Kakashi's grand scheme of things. She'd thought she was a bigger part of his life.
She shouldn't have allowed her mind to wander so freely over the past few days. She had no business imagining them together. Kakashi was a confirmed bachelor. He didn't date anyone, let alone socially maladapted former students. She'd been kidding herself.
There was a reason no one nudged elbows or raised eyebrows when she and Kakashi walked down the village streets together. Everyone knew he had no interest in women. He'd told her he'd been on a grand total of three dates since his teenage years, and the villagers of his age were doubtless aware of this too, having witnessed those rare events. That's why the rumors about his sexuality had surfaced. People suspected that he was handsome and that he'd have his choice of women if he were so inclined. So if he wasn't interested in women it only stood to reason that he was probably interested in men.
They were completely wrong, of course. A quick glance at Kakashi's chosen reading material confirmed this-- Sakura dropped the book only moments after first picking it up, fearing her retinas had been burned irreparably. The idea of Jiraiya writing (and profusely illustrating) such filth and any man reading it, let alone Kakashi, made her wonder about the male sex and its proclivities. She'd gingerly picked up the book again and paged through it anxiously in an attempt to discern whether there was, in fact, any plot, or if it was just random girl on boy on girl sex scenes strung together. It was the latter, she learned, and any misconceptions she might have had about the Icha, Icha series being "erotic love stories," as she'd heard them described, were shattered irrevocably.
But the one-dimensional women portrayed in triple X novels were completely different than the women of real life, and Kakashi's attraction to the former did not necessitate any interest in the latter, particularly those of the bookish, inexperienced variety. The man was almost thirty seven years old: if he were interested in the real thing, he would have hooked up with someone (or a series of someones) by now.
"Hinata! Tenten? It's about time you got here!" Sakura looked up to see Naruto's girlfriend and her unlikely companion hovering over the table. Naruto pulled a reluctant Hinata onto his lap, eliciting a blush from the girl and guffaws from the rest of the table.
"Sakura! Did someone die?"
"What? No, everything's fine. I'm just..." her voice trailed off. She had no desire to talk about just what was bothering her, and it upset her to realize that her emotions were displayed so vividly that Tenten had picked up on them. The brunette tended to be fairly dense at deciphering such things.
"No? No one left you money? An S-class mission, then? You must be rolling in it. That kimono cost at least--"
"Tenten--" Hinata attempted to rein in her exuberant friend. Her extreme shyness seemed to make up for the panda haired brunette's extreme lack of tact.
"I was wondering who had bought the kimono hanging in the Nakabishi shop! Hinata, your sister is going to be so upset--"
The byukugan user flushed a shade of cerise that perfectly complemented the lavender of her eyes. Her hands fluttered as she tried to smooth over her friend's indiscretion. "Um, Sakura, Hanabi has been asking my parents to buy that kimono for her, b-but of course they said no as she had nowhere to wear it. A-a-and it looks so much better on you--"
"She's going to die when she sees it on you! I can't wait!" Tenten looked as though she might cry, her mirth was that overpowering. The animosity between her and Hanabi was well known in the village and, according to Ino, had something to do Hanabi thinking Tenten not good enough for her cousin Neji. That hadn't stopped the weapons expert, however. She and Neji had been an item for over a year now, and Tenten availed herself of every opportunity to rub it in the younger girl's face.
"How did you afford it, Sakura?" Great. Now Ino's curiosity was piqued.
"I told you. My mom had some money set aside for Coming of Age Day. It was a total surprise." Sakura was glad she hadn't told Ino the story Kakashi had fed her: she'd have a lot of explaining to do, otherwise. She was correct in her first perceptions of the garment. He had purchased it, and it must have been even more expensive than she feared. If the Hyuugas were unwilling to buy it for their favored daughter it had to be exorbitantly priced. They were the wealthiest family in Konoha, and their younger daughter typically got anything she asked for.
This didn't make sense. Kakashi bought her a frighteningly expensive kimono, demanded that she meet him in a very specific location, then bailed out. Sakura gripped the thick walled glass beer mug before her and drained its contents in a single swig, her plans to wait until the evening to drink entirely forgotten.
"Lucky. You wouldn't believe the amount of begging I had to do to get mine." Ino flipped her ponytail for emphasis. "Idiot. Shikamaru, this is where you make a comment about how gorgeous I look."
"Whatever." The strategist shook his head sagely. "Why would I want to add to your ego?"
With an embarrassed glare, Ino directed her attention to the larger group. "Speaking of Seijin no hi-- shall we get going? The ceremony will be starting soon."
"Sakura!" Hinata rushed to her side, eyes wide. "What did you--"
"Oh." She'd crushed the beer mug, driving shards of glass into the palms of both hands.
"Hold your hands out-- away from the kimono. Boys, make yourself useful. Get a few wet paper towels." Ino quickly took over, putting her medic's skills to good use. She carefully picked out the glass fragments, and once she was sure the wounds were clean, applied chakra. Sakura attempted to assist her, only to be barked at.
"Be a patient for once. Do you think I can't handle this on my own?" Ino softened her voice to a whisper as she continued. "What is wrong with you today? You're really not yourself."
"We'll go on ahead," Kiba suggested. "We should be leaving if we want to get good seats."
The remains of the rookie nine, plus one headed out, leaving Ino to finish healing Sakura's hands.
"Thanks, Ino. I know you wanted to spend time with Shikamaru."
"With that idiot? You've got to be kidding me. I've been thinking about dumping him, and after what he just said to me, I may just do that. Plus Temari's in town, and you know how he gets around her." This was bluster, Sakura knew. Shikamaru and Ino were the perfect foils for each other and both knew it. What's more, they were deeply in love, although one would be hard pressed to see this, on first or second glance.
"I think I'm going to go home. I feel nauseated."
"I'm almost done, forehead. You'll feel better in a minute." Ino drove a last pulse of iridescent green chakra into her friend's palms and smiled as the final bits of skin knit together seamlessly. "There. All better. Want a lollipop?"
Sakura flexed her hands tentatively. Ino's skills had grown exponentially since she started studying as a medic. Better still, the days of her uncertainty were long past.
"I'm just not feeling well today. I really think it would be better if I called it a day and went home."
"You know, Sakura, that is so like you. You give up before you've even begun. We all know you're shy. Almost antisocial. And hanging out with your perverted old sensei hasn't helped much. Don't you want to be happy?"
Sakura's eyes widened at her friend's boldness.
"Of course I want to be happy."
"You're lonely, aren't you? I've noticed how you look at Shikamaru and me, and Naruto and Hinata, and Tenten and Neji. It's not wrong to want that. And you do want that, don't you?"
Sakura fought back tears.
"I don't understand why you're wasting your time on someone like him. Even if he's not gay, it's obvious he's not interested in living women. Real women." She gently patted her friend's back. "Right?"
The pink-haired kunoichi nodded.
"About half of shinobi are damaged goods. You told me that once. Giving your heart to someone like that-- well, you're just going to end up hurt. Here." She handed Sakura one of the dampened paper towels the boys had brought back. "I promise you'll feel better if you trust me."
"I trust you."
"So what did he do?"
Sakura laughed. "It's not what he did. It's what he didn't do."
Her friend waited for a while, then spoke gently, her words uncharacteristic of her normally information-gathering nature.
"You don't have to tell me. I can see how you're feeling."
"He stood me up, Ino."
Her friend's brow furrowed. She'd been expecting unrequited love, Sakura guessed, a complete lack of action from him.
"He made me promise to meet him, but he never turned up."
"Excuse me for saying so, but that's his modus operandi, isn't it?"
"No. This was different. I thought-- I was certain he had feelings for me. He bought this kimono for me, Ino."
A look of cognitive dissonance flashed across Ino's face. This didn't fit anything she had believed of the long celibate copy ninja. Her next words were heartfelt, and not at all gossip-driven.
"I'm really sorry, Sakura. I had no idea."
Sakura straightened up and forced a smile. "You're right, Ino. Let's go to the shrine. I need to get over this."
Sakura followed her friend through the busy, lantern bedecked streets toward the place where the coming of age ceremony was to take place. The participants would be called up, one by one to ring the large iron bell that dominated the open building, and a red- and white-clad miko would escort each in a circuit around the perimeter of the building, so that the attendees could applaud and appreciate the new adults in their midst.
Ino was right. Even though she was miserable, she shouldn't miss this event. It was her day, a once in a lifetime happening. Years from now, she'd remember the good parts-- the cheers and praise of her friends and colleagues-- and not the disappointing context.
"You've never been inside the new shrine, have you?" Ino was doing her best to make light conversation in an effort to distract her forlorn friend. "My cousin had her Shichi-go-san here not too long ago. You wouldn't believe how many people can fit inside."
"Hmm." It was a beautiful building, Sakura noted, and clearly one of the structures Yamato had built almost singlehandedly. The dolphins carved into the double front doors were the tip-off. Despite her mood, she had to chuckle at the obvious clue Yamato had left years before the village realized his feelings for Iruka.
Fewer steps than usual led from the sidewalk to the shrine proper, but that made sense as the building was constructed on flatter terrain than that of the old shrine. Stone lanterns flanked the wide staircase, and half hidden behind the pilasters were two wooden benches, one on either side of the wide stone steps.
"I--" Sakura's voice seemed to be lodged halfway down her throat. She tried again, but her vocal cords seemed to have vacated the premises. She really couldn't blame them-- the rest of her body was in shock, as well. Something that would otherwise be completely mundane had managed to turn her thoughts and feelings inside out. A familiar pair of sandals peeked out from behind the pilaster, sandals she knew quite well, given how often they were parked just inside her front door. She recognized the scars on the leather, as well as the slightly dirty toes half encased by the shoes.
"I-Ino," she gulped out eventually. "Could you give me a moment?"
Villagers were already streaming into the shrine: the stairs were clogged with ninja and civilians wearing various degrees of finery. Ino waved to their friends, managing to stir up the oxygen-starved fish in her hand as she did so.
"Sure. I'll wait right here."
Sakura walked slowly toward the figure sleeping on the ornately carved bench. His head had lolled back, and she noticed the dark marks under his eye, a sure sign that he hadn't slept in days. His book was open, face down on his lap, and half-hidden under the bench she noticed a bouquet of flowers. They were long past their prime, completely wilted as though they'd been deprived of water for hours.
Stupid, stupid man. He had said the old shrine-- the one with stone benches. Sakura felt her eyes fill with tears, but of happiness this time, not disappointment or regret. He'd waited how long? Four hours? As long as he'd made team seven wait on their first full day together.
Sakura leaned over him, sleeves fluttering, and carefully pulled down his mask just enough to reveal the visage she'd never fully seen before. He was a beauty, as had often been claimed by the gossip machine helmed by her best friend. A gorgeous, sleeping beauty, fully vulnerable despite his awe-inducing knowledge of jutsu.
She heard the murmurs on the other side of the banister, but decided that she didn't care. The villagers might go nuts, and the two of them would be the focus of debate and water cooler jokes for weeks to come, but that didn't matter. She had to do this. He'd waited for her while she assumed he had left her. He'd been true to her in a way she hadn't thought possible.
Her lips touched his gently, as an uproar broke out all around her.
"What the...hell is going on here?"
"I knew it! I knew it!"
"Tch. He's better looking than I thought."
"Do you think the two of them--"
"Sensei?! I swear, I'm going to kill him!"
Sakura didn't see Ino's silent smile of approval. She was too enraptured by the smoky grey eye that opened, widened slightly, then crinkled in delight as its owner recognized the source of the kiss. He pulled her into his lap, uncaring of the awestruck crowd behind him, and ran his half-gloved fingers over her porcelain skin.
"Hey. Took you long enough, didn't it?"