He's always having to bend down. Well, you don't think he really has to, yet he does; much more than necessary. And, it's really started to annoy you. I mean, really, you're a highly-skilled ninja now, with six years medic training and a chuuninhood under your belt. Doesn't that make you important? A force to be reckoned with, as the cliché saying goes. Not someone to be looked down on. Or down at.
But still, whenever you see him, none of it seems to matter. None of it. Not the fact that you've completed A-rank missions, that you've developed forbidden justsus, not the fact that you're just two weeks shy of your 19th birthday, or that a significant portion of Konoha's younger shinobi are beating a path to your door on Friday nights.
None of it counts, when you see him, and he still looks at you like you're a twelve-year old just out of the academy, all giggles and glittery lip gloss and daydreaming about Sasuke-kun when you should have been throwing shuriken.
Damn it, why does he have to look at me like that?
And the bending down. He used to do it to your teammates too; you had a rather difficult genin team, and it was kind of like an intimidation tactic, just so you would remember who was boss.
He was good at anti-climaxes. He would bend down, face dark and foreboding (though it was hard to tell with that mask covering half his face), and as you stared at his face, grown suddenly so close it was hard to breathe, you would become so aware of him.
Just so aware of how much taller and broader he was, how strong and powerful and just so invulnerable, like he could squash you like a bug...then he would come out with the most inane, ridiculous statement, that would just shatter the mood. You would release your breath with a gasp of relief, not even realising that you had been holding it all this time.
Sometimes it was quite funny, and it was always effective for shutting up Naruto. Sasuke would look defiant at first, lips then curling with disgust when the joke was revealed. Sasuke never did have much of a sense of humour. One of the many reasons you got over him.
Anyway, Sasuke and Naruto, having grown significantly taller over the past six and a half years, can't be bent down to anymore. But you, having grown to a height of 165cm, pitiful against his 190cm, can be bent down to. Like right now.
Why, oh why did your mother have to ask you to buy a type of soy sauce that is only ever found on the very top shelf at the supermarket? Why couldn't there have been a handy ladder or stool, and why, why, why, did he have to appear in the aisle, complete with shopping basket, just as you unceremoniously fell on your backside from trying to climb up the shelves?
You can feel your face flaming as he walks up to you; his one visible eye crinkled with amusement, though you can't see his face.
"Sakura-chan, need some help?"
You hate the way he says your name, with a sing-song lilt that you feel should only be used for five year olds, but at the same time you feel a muted thrill at the deep, smooth quality of his voice. When did his voice start to affect you this way? You don't know, but you know that Sasuke's voice never made your spine tingle and your face flush.
He bends down in a fluid, easy movement, and stretches out one large hand to assist you to your feet. You're tempted to swat away the hand with a snappy reply to the effect that you're not a child anymore and you'd rather die here on the linoleum floor than accept his condescending aid, but your body moves quicker than your mind and you take his hand.
You never realized how small and soft your hand is, before he held it like this, in his own. You are on your feet now, steady and sane, but his hand is still holding yours. You look down at the floor, letting your hair fall forward to hide your face from him. You imagine how well your face and hair colour must match at the moment.
He is doing something, you can't see what, but suddenly his scent envelopes you and you sense his nearness, overpowering and all-consuming. Get a hold of yourself, Sakura!
You lift your head and cannot prevent a scowl from contorting your features. A bottle of the special soy sauce hovers in front of your face then is dropped into the bag hanging by your side. He grins down at you, and your heart twists.
You can see it coming, you know what will happen now. He will bend down once again, down to your level, which is so far beneath him, to smile and a few words, and then, by a simple tightening of muscles and a straightening of the spine, he will be gone once more.
Gone. Separated from you by 25cm. By 16 years. By a triangle of black fabric that separates him from everyone. By a Jouninhood and 10 years of ANBU experience. But above all, by a past student-teacher relationship that people will never be able to ignore.
Sure enough, his face is right in front of your own, his eye crinkled into a happy face as he radiates warmth and amiability towards you. Warmth and amiability. Can't he see you? Is he blind? Can't he see the now waist-length hair, long lean-muscled limbs, curved hips and adequate, if not impressive cleavage? Will you never be able to shatter the frozen image of the little girl in his mind's eye?
"Have a nice day, Sakura," he says, already beginning to straighten up again.
You don't know exactly which emotion makes you do what you do now. It could be panic that makes you grab the collar of his Jounin vest, and anger that makes you yank him back down to you. But it is definitely frustration that moves your hands to cup his face, from which his eye is staring at you in astonishment, and it is definitely no emotion, but a nameless madness that drives you forward, to crush your lips against his.
It's just a desperate action with no reasoning, no thought, the kind of action you never do. But he seems to have that effect on you.
Kissing someone wearing a mask is not very rewarding, you quickly realize. You also realize that you are in a supermarket, and that half the village is in here at this moment, and that if you are caught, he, the older man, the experienced adult, the notorious womanizer, will be held responsible. You release him and, not daring to wait, almost run to the check-out counter, leaving him silent and staring in the aisle.
You are leaving the store, face burning, eyes stinging with tears you can't explain, when you hear his voice behind you.
He just says it. No sing-song, no lilt, no smile in his voice. You stop walking, but do not turn around.
He walks slowly around in front of you and stands there silently. You were taking a short cut to your house through a small park, relatively secluded, with high hedges and no noisy school children. A perfect place for airing dirty linen.
"Why?" he asks.
He is standing there, actually seeming like he is waiting for an explanation. You walk forward, try to walk past him, but he catches you by the arm in a firm, yet deliberately gentle grip. A grip you could break if you tried. He knows this.
"Because." You say the word flatly, meaninglessly.
"Because why?" he asks. His voice, like his grip, is maddeningly gentle. There is nothing to fight, nothing to dig claws into and rage at. Only smoothness and gentleness and mature understanding that makes you want to scream.
"Because," you say, "I'm not a child anymore."
"Nobody thinks that, Sakura." His voice is quiet, but because you are standing so close, leaning into his shoulder, tilting your head back to look up at him, you can hear it clearly.
It comes out as an accusation, an unfair accusation, about something that shouldn't be an issue, and wouldn't be if you didn't have these weird feelings, these feelings that make you wish you were someone else. Someone ten years older, someone who hadn't been his student, someone who was stronger, someone who possessed that elusive quality that could capture him and keep him forever at your side.
"Is that a problem?" he asks.
"Yes!" you burst out, before you can stop yourself. Your cheeks redden again.
He looks at you, tender and caring, but something else has appeared in his expression, in the sudden tensing of his body against you, the tightening of his grip. You gaze at him, confused by this new attitude.
"Don't Sakura," he says evenly, "It's not worth it, I'm not worth it. Don't let something like this affect your life, you are young..."
"But old enough to know what I want, Kakashi," you whisper, deliberately omitting any honorary suffices. You cannot stop the burning hope kindled in your heart at his words, spoken and unspoken.
He sighs suddenly, a sigh of exhaustion, and his whole body seems to sag slightly. You instinctively lean forward into him, supporting some of his weight, sending chakra probes to check his breathing and energy levels. With a pang of worry, you remember he had been on a mission recently; he must have returned late last night or early this morning.
Just like that, at the sound of his weary sigh, all your own concerns seem to vanish; all you can think of now is getting him home and into bed. No, not like that, you admonish Inner Sakura, blushing furiously.
"Come on", you say out loud, slinging his arm over your shoulder, "You look like you haven't slept in a week, and a bottle of milk isn't going to replenish your chakra levels. I'm taking you home."
Without waiting for an answer, you begin walking, not even staggering under his extra weight.
He is silent until you reach your doorstep, unlock the door, enter the living room and dump him on your couch. Then he begins to snore softly. You shake your head at the thought of the state he must have been in, probably still awake on adrenaline alone. What was he doing shopping in that condition?
But you love him anyway. Yeah, that's right. After all, if you're old enough to know what you want, to be a chuunin completing A-rank missions, to be a medic-nin and a damn good one at that; if you're old enough to ferociously kiss your former sensei in the condiments aisle of the supermarket and if you're then old enough to drag said sensei to your apartment and drop him in a snoozing heap on your couch...
You're old enough to love him, you're old enough to let him know it, and you're old enough to admit it, even if he's afraid to. Because while you're old enough to do all these things, you're still young enough and stubborn enough to believe that love can, and will, overcome all obstacles.
Even black silk masks.