|The Ends and the Means
Author: Tintinnabula PM
Written for the "Love's Not Time's Fool" Kakasaku Shakespeare competition. To shinobi, "The ends justify the means," are words to live by. But do those words apply to matters of love? Rated M for graphic sexual situations. kakashi x sakura, kakasakuRated: Fiction M - English - Romance - Kakashi H. & Sakura H. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 27,652 - Reviews: 67 - Favs: 120 - Follows: 13 - Published: 03-01-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5785479
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's note: This story was created for the "Love's Not Time's Fool" competition hosted by the LJ Kakasaku community and moderndayportia. The idea of the contest is to choose one of Shakespeare's plays and retell it within the Naruto universe, with Kakashi and Sakura as the main players. I have chosen one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, All's Well That Ends Well, for my submission. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, that you'll vote for it at community . livejournal . com / kakasaku / (remove spaces to make this a working link—or just Google "kakasaku shakespeare.") Voting begins on March 2. Thank you for reading, and to the wonderful IcarusT for for giving up a chunk of her weekend to beta!
Disclaimer: Naruto, associated characters and settings belong to Masashi Kishimoto. No profit will be made nor is intended to be made from this work of fanfiction.
Rated M for graphic sex. Please use discretion. This story is complete: I've posted it in four chapters to make it easier to read.
The Ends and the Means
a kakasaku fanfiction
All's well that ends well.
The ends justify the means.
--Anonymous, often attributed
to Niccolò Machiavelli
Section 17, Article 12
A dusty ray of late afternoon sunlight filtered over Haruno Sakura as she carried a stack of books to a table in the main reading area of the Konoha library. She set the volumes down carefully, as all of them were ancient, leather bound, one-of-a-kind texts she'd begged from the rather stingy librarian that managed the closed stacks. Pencil and notebook in hand, the village's best medic searched the brittle pages of these treatises, looking for any clue that might help her cure the Hokage's affliction.
While she was alive, Tsunade had failed to reverse the cellular damage done to the village's young leader each time he performed the wind release rasengan. Although Naruto evolved this jutsu further to a form that no longer harmed his body, substantial damage had already been done.
The Nine Tails made up for Naruto's weakening organs and tissues at first. But even a mighty demon had its limits. At this point in time, only three years after taking on the guardianship of the village, Naruto lay in bed, permanently exhausted. He looked like an old man, his skin loose and crepey on his frame, his muscles atrophied into the abbreviated versions usually seen on the starved.
Sakura doubted she could cure her friend. Tsunade had failed, and Shishou had ten times the experience of her student. But Sakura was nothing if not tenacious. She spent most of her free time in the dusty stacks, and was close to completing her self-imposed mission of reading every medical book and herbal encyclopedia the library had to offer.
With a focused breath she blew dust from the cover of another text, sending motes into the air to circle around her in a haze of refracted light. This book was entitled: A Survey of the Organelles: Their Physiology and Chakra Adjustment. It looked promising. But horribly, it was hand-written, probably one of the first books written after the switch from scrolls to codex format. The medic struggled to read it in the waning afternoon light, and almost immediately set it aside to rub her eyes.
A book Sakura hadn't carried to the table caught her eye. This one was a history. Typically she avoided that section of the library, as that kind of book put her to sleep. But this volume had illustrations, colored ones showing the Konoha of the past. Sakura paged through the book, pausing at a section on marriage customs.
The world had certainly changed. The picture showed a veil-covered woman, kneeling before her future husband in earnest supplication. In the background, gold was being exchanged, an allusion to the custom of dowering one's daughters.
The modern kunoichi shuddered with interested disgust. The idea of essentially selling one's offspring to the highest bidder was repugnant. But it was distasteful in the way of a massive accident— one felt compelled to look on, or in this case, to keep reading.
"Thinking of tying the knot?"
Sakura looked up to see the village womanizer smiling at her.
"That would require an offer, wouldn't it?" Sakura regretted her words immediately. The best way to deal with Genma was to blast him with an icy response, if not ice itself. He interpreted anything warmer as a come-on.
"Surely someone as beautiful as you has had dozens— no, hundreds— of offers."
The kunoichi tried not to roll her eyes at this blatant attempt at ingratiation. "I haven't had a date in two years."
"I could fix that, you know."
"No, thanks." That was direct, Sakura reasoned. Not that he was likely to take no for an answer.
"We're all afraid of your biting wit, my dear."
"Is that what it is? That's the reason men turn and run when I approach?"
Genma chuckled. "I doubt they do that."
"Well, no, not really. The problem is there aren't too many people I'm interested in dating. And the ones that I do find attractive are way out of my league."
The orally-fixated jounin gave a theatrical sigh. "I pity you. Have you ever thought of lowering your standards?"
"And why would I do that?"
"To live a little. It seems we'll be young forever, but the truth is youth is fleeting. You'll wake up one morning middle aged—"
Genma's senbon fell onto the table, anointing Sakura's book with a spray of spittle. "No, I'm not there yet! But I can tell you, you'll regret the times you might have spent—"
"In hedonistic abandon?"
"Precisely." Genma gazed at her with an expression approaching a leer. "You're still a virgin, aren't you, Sakura?"
This is why she hated talking to the man. He took such liberties. Sakura blushed profusely, and despised herself for having no control over that bodily function. With her level of chakra control she should be able to limit vasodilation within a particular tissue. "What business is that of yours?" she rebutted in a voice that was a bit more savage than necessary.
"It's every man's business," Genma replied glibly. "Here's the thing about virginity. It's a valuable commodity at first, but its worth falls precipitously with age. A seventeen-year-old maiden is hot— precisely because she's a virgin. But a thirty-year-old... not so much. She's the wrinkled shirt from last season. The one on the clearance rack at the very back of the store, under a banner marked "last chance." She may never have been worn by a lover, but she's worn nonetheless. Never dated, but dated. Utterly undesirable."
"Leave it to a clotheshorse to reduce a woman's state of being to a clothing metaphor."
"Well, I knew you'd understand," said the outrageously dressed Genma to a girl still wearing the red and white uniform of years past.
"Are you wearing someone else's pants?" Sakura lamely attempted to redirect the conversation.
"These?" Genma yanked on their waistband to bring them up, momentarily, to hip height. "They're the latest thing."
"You look like a prison escapee."
"What can I say? I'm a slave to fashion. But let's get back to the subject at hand, Sakura."
The kunoichi sighed with patient forbearance
"Seriously," Genma continued. "You might as well lose it."
"Lose what?" Kakashi strolled up to the smirking jounin and placed a gloved, calloused hand on his shoulder.
"Nothing," said fashionista and victim simultaneously.
"You have a mission report to file. Or did you forget?"
Genma sauntered off, with a backwards wink at Sakura.
"Thanks." Sakura smiled at Kakashi.
"So he was bothering you, then."
She shrugged. "He was just being Genma. It's my fault. He noticed what I was reading, and that got him started."
"He's a good guy. Unbelievable in battle. It's worth putting up with a character flaw or two."
"I was wondering what you see in him."
Kakashi picked up the heavy volume in front of her and glanced at its title."Marriage Customs of Early Leaf. Interesting reading?"
"Not terribly. I needed a break. I've spent the better part of the day here, looking for any clue that might help me find a cure—"
She nodded. "I feel like I'm close— terribly close. In the lab I've been able to partially reverse the cellular degradation. But it stops short."
"But that's something."
"It's not enough. It might buy him another year. Maybe."
"And reading historical anthropology takes your mind off your worries?"
"The book was just lying here, so I picked it up. And it is interesting. Did you know that in early Leaf the daimyou decided who would marry whom? This was when Leaf was sparsely populated. Once a year the citizenry would be gathered, and he'd issue an edict. Some had never met before then."
"The Konoha Breeding Project."
"You know about it?"
Kakashi nodded. "It's how the Uchiha came about. From a Hyuuga and a foreign woman with multi-pupilled eyes. Sometimes the daimyou let a favored subject choose his own wife. The man would walk among the prospective wives and choose anyone he fancied. And with that, they were married."
"How do you know so much about this? They didn't say a word about it in our Academy history classes."
Kakashi sat down next to her, and paged to the very beginning of the anthropology book. He stopped at the title page, and ran his finger down the lines of the text.
"'Hatake Souku, editor.'" Sakura read aloud.
"My grandfather. Not to mention one of the beneficiaries of the breeding project."
"He was a child of it?"
"No. It's how he met my grandmother."
Kakashi gave his trademark indolent shrug. "Most villagers don't talk about it. It was another time, with different rules. Things have changed."
"But when was he born?" Sakura did some quick calculations. "Surely after the founding of the village."
"The First Hokage carried on the daimyou's tradition." Noticing her look of surprise, Kakashi continued, "I'm sure he thought it useful to make sure certain lineages continued. And that new ones were created."
"So you approve?"
"I didn't say that. And what I think really doesn't matter. Arranged marriages rarely happen anymore. Not in Konoha." Kakashi glanced toward the window, his substitute for a timepiece and started.
"Ah! I need to be going."
"Of course." His lone eye crinkled in what she took as a sign of a smile.
"We never talk, you know." She failed to hide the wistfulness in her voice.
"Well, we should change that. It's always nice to talk with you, Sakura."
Sakura beamed at these encouraging words. "Thanks, Kakashi."
The copy ninja tipped his hand in a lazy wave and loped towards the exit.
Sakura continued perusing her book, nodding in approval as she read the next passage. The Second Hokage had ended the practice of mate selection and mass marriage, after several ill-conceived matches ended in feuding and bloodshed.
But this hadn't entirely ended the practice. Fathers carried on then, choosing the mates for their daughters. This lasted until just one generation prior to Sakura's, when males and females were finally afforded autonomy. She knew about this, at least. Her mother was quite vocal about the fact that she'd been allowed to date over her parents' objections.
But there were still some relics of this generations-old, patriarchal attitude remaining in male-female interactions.
Men and boys continued to ask out their female counterparts. It was almost never the other way around and frowned upon when it did occur. Women were supposed to use their kunoichi training to land a man. Drilled into every female ninja-in-training was a vast storehouse of accumulated information on the best way to trick a man into falling for you. If one were particularly skilled at the art (and most were), one could make a man believe his every gesture was his own idea, when truly it was nothing of the sort.
To put it mildly, this kind of deceptive behavior disgusted Sakura. Why should she wait in her apartment for a hand-written confession of another's interest? Worse, why should she be forced to engineer such an interaction when there were much more direct ways of communicating?
But she'd tried this latter method— speaking face-to-face with the object of her affection— and it had failed miserably. Her confession of love to Sasuke had earned her a bump on the head and a night on a cold, concrete bench. She'd tried the passive method, as well. No one approached her. Maybe she wasn't pretty enough, or maybe, as Genma implied, she was too intelligent. Whatever the reason, it was clear to Sakura that the direct approach was even more unlikely to work.
It seemed that when it came to matters of love, the men of Konoha preferred a covert approach from women, even from the village's most active, assertive kunoichi.
Sakura wrinkled her nose in distaste at the thought of this double standard. It was clear to her that women would never truly be equal to men until this inequity was addressed. But it was also blindingly evident that she needed to take matters into her own hands if she ever wanted a man.
And Sakura did want a man. She wanted a husband and children, an oasis of stability in an otherwise chaotic shinobi life. She wasn't after the fairy tale— after witnessing the daily misery of her parents' marriage Sakura had no illusions about the difficulties every married couple faced. But a person to come home to each night, a person with whom she could share the trials and small victories of daily life seemed a beautiful dream.
Yes, she did want a man, one specific man, a man who barely noticed her on a good day. True, he'd just rescued her from the sex-infused ramblings of the village's most promiscuous ninja, but this was something he'd do for any colleague. Sakura doubted that she registered as attractive— or interesting— on Kakashi's personal meter, let alone as a female.
He wasn't a monk, as she'd assumed after first meeting him, or gay, as she'd wondered after the strange piggy back ride from Gai-sensei she'd witnessed on a return journey from Suna. Sakura knew for a fact that Kakashi dated occasionally. He wasn't a male slut, like Genma. Rather, Kakashi was known to have very high standards. Ino kept Sakura apprised of his comings and goings around the village as one small item of interest in her daily gossip broadcast. And Sakura knew of the copy ninja's visits to the Yamanaka flower shop to pick out a single— always a single—flower. Thanks to Ino, she even knew the names some of his conquests.
They were pretty women, lovely, accomplished, feminine ones. It was obvious to Sakura that Kakashi could have anyone he desired. But he didn't desire just anyone.
Certainly not someone like her. There wasn't a rock crusher among the copy ninja's conquests: his women were more genteel than that, more soft-spoken. They were willowy, almost ethereal creatures, dancers, not boxers. Painters, not potters. Women similar to Sakura in gender alone.
Kakashi might as well be a different species— a new form of human that mated only with his like. Not with a grounded, faltering mortal with too big forehead and too wide eyes.
She could dream, though.
A good part of Sakura's evenings were lost in fantasy, the best ones rehearsed and polished into neat internal movies of the way things would be in a perfect world.
In these waking dreams Kakashi noticed her, his eyes widening as an unseen void in his life was instantaneously filled by the person he recognized as his soul mate. He felt the electrifying jolt of this epiphany, and he always asked for Sakura's hand immediately. And Kakashi was unable to wait for a ceremony— neither of them were— so they'd make love that same night. Wild, tumultuous love. And sex was always everything Sakura had otherwise imagined it to be.
The pink-haired fantasist jumped as the ceiling lights flashed with the silent announcement that the library would be closing soon. In an uncharacteristic move, Sakura stowed two books in her bag and headed for the exit. Two ideas had announced themselves to her, flashing on just as the ornate hanging lamps above her flashed off. One revelation was a brilliant idea how she might cure Naruto, the other, an easy fix for her ailing love life.
"I don't know how I'll repay you."
Already Naruto was looking healthier. Color had come back into his skin, and his eyes had lost the dullness that had turned them from their normal brilliant turquoise to a murky sea water blue. He'd never lost his smile, but now it was backlit by a glow of returning health.
Sakura was sure she'd never been so happy about a patient's recovery. She hugged her friend gently, mindful of his still weakened physiology. Then she adjusted Naruto's hospital bed, which he'd installed in his office to be closer to his work. That was the Hokage: even bedridden he'd kept up on his paperwork, unlike his predecessor.
The workaholic sank into newly fluffed pillows and smiled at his healer. "What exactly did you do? No, don't tell me. I probably wouldn't understand."
"Actually, it's quite simple. It came to me when I was thinking about how easily I blush."
Naruto's brow wrinkled in an attempt at comprehension.
"I was thinking about the chakra circuits that connect to the capillaries of the cutaneous layer. Of skin. There was a study done not so long ago that showed they are responsive to beta-adrenergic drugs."
"Ooh. You lost me." A glaze slowly crept over the ninja's cornflower eyes.
"Well, they tested a bunch of drugs. One actually increased blushing. The reason was that more capillaries were created. Which means more chakra circuits. So all I had to do was see if it would cause any type of chakra pathway to grow. Or regrow, as in your case." Sakura beamed. "And it worked!"
"I have no idea what you just said, Sakura. I'm just thankful you're on our side. You saved my life."
"It means you won't be able to use the early form of your rasengan anymore. I don't know if the treatment will work again."
"I've learned my lesson. My skull is pretty thick, but once I've got a lesson down, it stays." Naruto sighed as he lay back among the abundance of cushions on his bed. "So, Sakura. What can I do to repay you?"
"Seriously. Your heart's desire. If it's within my ability, I'll do it."
Sakura bit her lip in uncertainty. He wasn't drug addled, but Naruto didn't know what he was saying. And surely he wouldn't approve of what she had in mind.
"I can tell there's something. Do you have an idea of how happy you've made me? And Hinata? And our child? Not to mention the village."
"I get it, Naruto. But it's my job to heal."
"No. You've spent countless hours at the library. Kakashi mentioned it to me."
"He keeps an eye on you."
This was surprising news, as she rarely crossed path with said ninja. But it gave her the courage to speak. Sakura took a deep breath and let the words come tumbling out. "Actually, there is something you can do for me."
"I want a husband."
"A husband? What's stopping you?"
"Face it, Naruto. I'm not the most attractive kunoichi in the village."
"What? You've got to be kidding! You're gorgeous, Sakura."
She ignored this expected response. He was still smitten, even though he'd been married for years, now. "And the men I find attractive are put off by me. Maybe it's my strength."
"Yeah. Who'd want to be crushed to death during his first lover's row?" Naruto grimaced in immediate chagrin. "Ooh. Sorry. That just slipped out."
"You sound like Sai. But you're right. Or maybe I'm too intelligent. That scares some guys."
"Nothing scares you, Naruto. My point is, I can sit around growing old, or I can take a chance. I want to take a chance."
"How do I fit into this?"
"Section 17, Article 12 of the Konoha charter."
"What?" Not surprisingly, the Hokage had never read the document. It didn't even sound like he was familiar with it.
The longtime aide came running in, his eyes widening as he saw the Hokage's renewed vigor.
"Can you find me— what was it, again?"
"The Konoha charter," Sakura repeated patiently.
"The Konoha charter," directed Naruto.
"It's right here, Hokage-sama." Izumo walked over to a disused bookshelf and pulled the necessary scroll from a precariously balanced stack.
The Hokage sat up in bed, unrolled the proffered scroll to the appropriate place and read aloud.
"Section 17, Article 12. When deemed necessary, the Hokage may convene a court of marriage. This court is twofold in purpose. First, it will promote the dissemination of advantageous Kekkai Genkai and other traits deemed of strategic value to the village. Second, in rare cases it will be used as a reward for superior service to the village. The court may take two forms. Form one will consist of an equal number of males and females, to be assigned to each other by the Hokage's decree. Form two will consist of an honored shinobi and potential mates, from which a single spouse will be selected.
Naruto looked at Sakura in confusion.
"It means you can set up a group of men for me to choose among."
"And you'd just choose someone from that group, huh? Not very romantic, is it? Don't you want to fall in love?" Naruto tilted his head as he gazed critically at his long-time friend. "You don't already have someone in mind, do you?"
"No! Of course not! I think it would be fair to convene all the unmarried men age twenty-one and up, don't you?"
"How come I've never heard of this before— this Section 17?"
"It hasn't been used in a long time. Since the First."
"There must have been a reason it was abandoned."
"Well, at first the village was small. It made sense to plan the most efficacious matings."
"Ugh. It's like breeding dogs."
"It was accepted at the time. And it's still on the books. You're well within your authority to convene a court of marriage."
"But...Izumo, this was written before the equal rights provision, wasn't it?"
Naruto's aide nodded at the obvious question. "But that law opened up all previous legislation. Even if the marriage court was only for men initially, it applies to both men and women now."
"Sakura, it still seems meddlesome to me."
The kunoichi bowed her head in defeat. Naruto was not going to be convinced. This idea went against his strongly held beliefs of fair play. "Never mind. I'm sorry I brought it up."
A still-weak hand reached out to grasp hers. "I didn't say I wouldn't do it. I owe you my life, Sakura. If this truly what you want, consider it done."
"I'll convene the court next week. During the Hanami Festival."
"Konoha, it is good to be back!"
An approving crowd roared their delight at seeing their beloved Hokage again. It had been months since he'd appeared in public, and the village's residents had feared, rightfully, for the worst. To see their leader well again was a surprise to most, and a happy ending for the most faithful.
Naruto stood atop the cylindrical administration building, Hinata to his right, and Sakura to his left. He raised his hand to quiet the crowd some 15 meters below him. It subdued itself immediately, a reflexive response to the Rokudaime's inborn authority.
"You should know," Naruto said in a crisp, loud voice, "that one person is responsible for my recovery. This person spent endless hours in the library and the lab finding a cure for my disorder. She burned the candle at both ends and risked her own health to recover mine. Please tell me what you think of Konoha's new head medic, Haruno Sakura!"
The crowd went wild in its eagerness to assign a tangible reason for their leader's recovery. Their excited cheering, combined with the stamping of many feet shook loose the cherry blossoms on the trees lining the square. Each small spring breeze showered the crowd with a confetti of delicate petals.
Sakura blushed as she heard her name chanted. This must be what it was like to have power, she mused. It was a testament to Naruto's character that he didn't let this feeling of love— of raw approval— go to his head.
Naruto bellowed over the noise of the crowd.
"She deserves a reward, don't you agree?"
There was a definitive "yes" from the crowd, a cheer so loud it rattled the admin building's windows, and set forth another petal gale.
The Hokage raised his hand again, bringing a silence that was deafening in its immediacy.
"One job of the Hokage is to ensure the well-being of the village. I think it is in the interest of this village that a woman this bright—" the crowd clapped, "this resourceful—" the crowd cheered, "this beautiful—" the crowd hooted lasciviously, "should have a husband."
A hush fell over the citizens and shinobi assembled below.
"I ask that every single man, age 21 and over, step forward now."
The crowd parted and reorganized itself with organic fluidity as the marriageable men of the village moved forward. A murmuring ensued and grew quickly in volume as speculation began.
"Choose your husband," Naruto said quietly, as he gave his best friend a gentle push towards the spiral staircase that led from the roof.
Sakura moved slowly. Surely this was a bad idea, after all.
But the crowd clapped rhythmically as she descended the stairs like some princess at her courtly debut. It grew silent again as she reached the ground, and the assemblage of men parted as she walked toward them.
Her face must be as red as the shirt she wore.
Sakura moved slowly among her prospective mates, to give the charade a bit more substance. Genma was near the front of the group and all smiles. He puffed out his chest and sucked in his gut, which caused his pants to slide down his hips. Lee was starry-eyed, and Sakura sensed that he was praying to a vestal god or three. Or maybe to a god or goddess of love. Kiba looked away as she approached. He was already taken, she knew, although not officially. She nodded in his direction before moving away. Shikamaru shook his head in a small show of disdain. The master strategist and iconoclast was not fond of trickery in love. Ino had learned this some time ago, although this hadn't stopped her from trying.
Sakura continued scanning the crowd for the object of her intent. Gai was there, as was her one-time teacher Iruka, and even the slightly scary Ibiki. But no Kakashi.
She was sure of it now. This was a very bad idea. She wouldn't be able to walk away empty handed: she'd have to choose one of the men now standing before her. The usually brilliant kunoichi froze as she tried to come up with a plan, some easy fix for the problem she'd created for herself.
Sakura gazed up at the admin building. Naruto and a very pregnant Hinata were smiling encouragingly, their arms linked in a show of solidarity.
Lee, the daunted kunoichi decided. Lee wouldn't be so bad. He still doted on her, after all.
Sakura moved back through the crowd and was about to tap the smaller green beast of Konoha, when she heard a welcome drawl. It was a lazy voice she knew quite well.
Honestly, she had never heard such a lovely sound in her life.
"Can anyone tell me why all of you men are crowded in here? Are they giving something away?"
Sakura flew towards the voice, nearly tackling its owner. "Hatake Kakashi, I choose you."
"Um, choose me for what?"
The crowd roared its approval.
"Naruto, I'll ask you again. What the hell is going on?"
Behind the fortress of his desk, the sixth Hokage peered carefully from Kakashi to Sakura, and back again. "What's going on is that you two are legally married," Konoha's leader said cautiously.
"According to section 17 of the Konoha charter," Izumo broke in.
"Article 12," Kotetsu added. "It allows the Hokage to set up marriages, or offer them as rewards."
"I'm familiar with the statute," Kakashi spluttered. "And I know it hasn't been used in years— since the early days of the village. I can't believe you would go along with this, Naruto. You not only knew about this—you okayed it." These last words were a statement, not a question, an angry, accusatory statement riddled with disbelief.
"I'd watch my tone, if I were you," said one of the two aides flanking the Hokage like bookends.
"I didn't know who Sakura had in mind, Kakashi."
"Where is my say in the matter? That statute was abolished for a reason."
"Not abolished," corrected Izumo from Naruto's right side.
"It's a blue law. It hasn't been applied in what? Fifty years?"
"Are you questioning the Hokage's authority?" Kotetsu moved quickly toward the copy ninja, fists rigid at his side. Izumo followed.
"No! I'm questioning his judgment!"
"Let it be." Naruto waved his hand, and the twin guard dogs backed down.
Sakura looked at the ornately tiled floor and wished its fired pattern of thorny vines would spring to ornery life and swallow her whole. She might use a jutsu to escape the humiliation she was enduring, but that would be not at all acceptable. A person didn't just disappear from an audience with the Hokage. Even if he was your best friend.
This was a mistake, a horrible, misshapen lump of an idea. She'd felt it, standing in the plaza surrounded by one-fourth of Konoha's population, a stomach-curdling feeling of impending doom. In hindsight she realized that she could have waved up at Naruto and said something light and funny, even a simple, "Hey! I was just kidding!" The crowd would have laughed, and she would have been able to walk away. Destiny had wanted this. Kakashi was almost always late, but today it had been for a very good reason. Sakura simply wasn't meant to choose him.
"Hokage-sama, I ask that my request be voided. Annulled. Whatever it is you need to do to make this problem disappear."
Kakashi gazed at his new wife with unvarnished disdain. "That's a little late, don't you think?"
"What do you mean? It was a stupid idea to pick you. So let's undo it."
"I can't." Naruto winced.
"Why not?" Sakura asked blankly. "You're the Hokage."
"The delegations from Tsuchi and Ame arrived today. You know how tense things are among us. If I suddenly reverse a decision, I'll look weak. Besides—" Naruto turned to the man flanking his right, "Kotetsu, is it even possible to reverse this kind of decision?"
"My understanding is no, Hokage-sama. Marriage is inviolable in Fire. It's a lifetime contract."
Naruto tented his index fingers as he closed his eyes in thought. He'd only wanted to make Sakura happy. But she wasn't happy now. She looked humiliated. Defeated. And Kakashi— he looked angrier than Naruto had ever seen him. Angrier than he'd been during their first real battle as a team.
The Hokage opened his eyes, but looked at his desk as he spoke. "I suggest you two accept what's done. This isn't a bad match. It will have its benefits."
"With all due respect," Kakashi glanced to either side of him, "who are you to talk about the quality of this match? We have nothing in common. She's a chunnin. I made that rank when I was six."
"If that's a problem, I can raise her rank right now. It's long overdue, anyway."
"That's not the point, and you know it!" Kakashi stood rigid while an aid encircled each arm with an iron hard grip.
"Let him go, boys. He has the right to be angry. But I stand by what I said, Kakashi. I can't think of anyone more suited to you."
"It's not your job to make that decision." A savage light lit his eye as it met Sakura's. "Nor yours."
"You're dismissed, Kakashi."
Kakashi did not immediately leave his leader's presence. Instead he took a deep breath and attempted to calm his raging emotions. When he spoke again, his voice was as even-tempered as it usually was.
"Hokage-sama, sir. I have some vacation time coming to me. With your permission, I'd like to use it."
"Granted. Work out the details with these two."
Kotetsu and Izumo accompanied Kakashi to the outer office. Once the heavy oak door clicked shut, Naruto addressed his long-time friend.
"Had you planned to choose him from the start?" he asked softly. He certainly hadn't seen that coming. Hinata said he was dense when it came to love, but Naruto had always assumed he had half a clue when it came to Sakura.
His friend bobbed her head in a barely perceptible nod.
"I've been in love with him... forever. Well, it seems like forever."
"What do you mean, how? How did you fall in love with Hinata? It just happens, idiot."
Naruto smiled at the only person in Konoha allowed to call him names. "You never spend time together."
"And you barely know him outside of work." Naruto knew this was true— Kakashi had spent far more time with him in training, yet even Naruto knew little about the secretive man. As Hokage he heard plenty of gossip. But as for facts, Naruto knew only what others knew about the copy ninja, that the man had a love of Icha, Icha and a talent at shirking even the smallest restaurant check. Kakashi liked things that way. He was a loner, plainly put.
"But I do know him. I know what kind of person he is. I feel it. He's kind and he's valorous. He's a brilliant strategist. He's the ultimate shinobi apart from you, of course."
Naruto nodded. "He is all of those things. But is that enough to cause you to fall in love with him?"
"What made you fall in love?"
Naruto closed his eyes as he remembered his courtship of the future leader of the Hyuuga clan.
"It was her kindness," he said finally.
"Plenty of people in Konoha are kind."
"I know, Sakura."
"You can't really answer my question. There's no formula for love. You just know when it happens. And it happened for me."
"How do you know it's not infatuation?"
"It's lasted too long to be that."
"What about him?"
Sakura averted her eyes. "He could learn to love me."
Naruto sighed as he considered the headstrong kunoichi before him. He didn't understand her. Sakura was beautiful, a lovely person with an amazing mind. She could have anyone she wanted. But she set her sights on an enigma, someone who wasn't known to relate well to either gender. Yes, the man dated—the loner did seem to want to put down roots. But Naruto had heard tales of those relationships crashing and burning. The copy ninja was said to have eccentric hobbies and extremely strange tastes. Apparently most women couldn't handle him once they really got to know him.
"It doesn't matter. What's done is done. You're married. Maybe he'll come around." A man that lazy might, assuming he had a sex drive. There was something to be said for waking up next to an attractive woman each morning, Naruto knew. Kakashi was a practical man. Surely he'd see the benefit of a wife. And maybe he would grow to love her.
"Take the next two weeks with Kakashi, and see if you can work things out."
"And here." Naruto pulled two items from his desk drawer. "I'll miss your birthday. Go ahead and open it."
Sakura clicked open a flat velvet case to reveal a small jade pendant. It was a finely carved cherry blossom, elegant in its simplicity.
"It was Hinata's idea. She thinks you should wear more jewelry."
"Thanks. To both of you." Sakura embraced the Hokage, glad of his unwavering support.
"Take this, too."
An orange covered book strangely similar in looks to the Icha, Icha series was placed in her hands.
"Is this so I can understand Kakashi better?" Sakura grimaced. She had no intention of reading pornography, even if it was her new husband's major pastime.
"No. It's something Jiraiya gave me. A different kind of story. You should read it. And take your time. It has a lot to say."
"Are you sure?"
"He would want this, I'm sure."
Sakura tucked the two gifts into her satchel and bowed deeply. "Thank you, Naruto. I'm sorry I've laid all this on your doorstep. I—"
"Don't apologize. Why don't you see if you can catch Kakashi? I have a feeling he won't be sticking around for long."
Sakura hurried out of the elegant office and barreled after Kakashi, who was just leaving the anteroom.
"I'm sorry, Kakashi."
"Good for you." The copy ninja quickened his pace as he approached the stairs.
"I didn't think—"
"No, you certainly didn't." He took the marble steps two at a time, eager to be rid of this new appendage. Sakura hurried along behind him, fighting the urge to grab him and hold him close. She wanted to look him in the eye and show him her remorse, but she didn't dare.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," she said instead.
"Of course." The copy ninja stared straight ahead of him. "This wasn't about me. It was all about you."
"That's not true. I love you."
Kakashi laughed, and Sakura was struck by the harshness of the sound.
"What do you know about me? What are my hobbies, Sakura? How do I spend my free time?"
"There's more to me than that."
"I love the person I know."
"And what about me, Sakura? Whom do I love?" Kakashi continued down the stairs without waiting for an answer.
The kunoichi blanched. She hadn't considered that Kakashi might be involved. According to Ino, he hadn't dated in months.
"Hell, Sakura, did you consider that I might not be interested in your sex?"
His words echoed through the stairwell, and caused an audible reaction from the secretaries listening attentively in their nearby cubicles.
"You're... gay?!!" The memory of the desert piggy-back ride sent a new shudder down Sakura's spine.
"No. But that's not the point. You don't know me, Sakura. A marriage doesn't start out like this." Kakashi continued down the stairs and headed to the exit. Sakura bounded after him, and grabbed his arm as he pushed through the ornate iron doors of the admin building and into a blindly sunny spring afternoon.
"Where are you going?"
"You really don't need to know that."
Kakashi's laugh was even harsher than before. He might have sliced her with his tanto, it hurt so much.
"Yes, without you."
"Do I at least get a kiss?"
Kakashi's stare spoke for him. His exposed eye was hard as anthracite, his brow like granite.
"I'm your wife." She had never spoken so meekly in her life.
"No, Sakura, you're not my wife. Maybe according to the law you are, but not in any way that really matters. I don't love you, Sakura. I could never love you. We're too different. I've been on this earth for thirty-four years and you're still just a kid. I was fighting wars while you were at your mother's breast. Even now, you're just a chunnin. We don't belong together."
"You could love me. You could."
"That's exactly the point. When have I had the choice? It would be one thing if I'd somehow knocked you up. I'd do the right thing. But there's no way that would have happened. I don't sleep around with random women. And even if I did, I wouldn't be stupid enough to forget the contraception."
"Kakashi—" The tears were flowing, and before an audience. Many of the crowd gathered for the day's cherry festival were still present, although half-intoxicated by now. Her horrible interaction with Kakashi was presumably delightful Hanami entertainment.
"You're not my wife, Sakura, and you never will be."
The copy ninja laughed again. "When I share your bed, Sakura. When you wake up and my copy of Icha, Icha is on your nightstand. Consider me your husband then."
Kakashi turned on his heel and strode away from her, into a crowd whooping and hissing, and quite eager to hear more.
"Is that a challenge?" Sakura called after him in a voice too high pitched to be her own. Humiliation oozed from every syllable.
The copy ninja looked over his shoulder dismissively. "If you like." He raised his hand in a lazy wave and disappeared into the crowd.
Sakura stood unwatching, unmoving apart from the hot tears flowing slowly down her face.
Things hadn't gone at all to plan.
Author's note: This story is complete. Please click to continue reading.