Okay. So. Here it is. My first ever chaptered NaruSaku. This story was inspired by the keyword "parasol" and an image drawn by Kishimoto of Team 7 in ornate-looking costumes (you've probably seen it before). I hope everyone enjoys!
At the Festival of the New Leaves
Chapter 1: Kimono
He knew it was her from a mile away, because her parasol was bright red and it bobbed along confidently as she walked through the sea of people at the festival.
She never used to walk like that. The time she'd spent training with Tsunade had worked wonders.
Rather than call out to her, he stopped at a booth and bought a mask similar in design to the masks that ANBU wore and put it on, squinting through the tiny eyeholes until he spotted her again.
His smile grew, and it became rather crooked. She was wearing a pink kimono patterned with cherry blossoms, and her hair was bound up in an elaborate twist, revealing a tantalizing section of neck.
She looked beautiful, but then again, she always looked beautiful—at least, to him. He'd heard other people say—never in her presence, of course—that she had too much muscle in her arms or too much forehead or not enough chest, and he usually laughed and smiled a mysterious smile that seemed to say he knew better, because he did. Naruto had seen those muscles in action, and he appreciated them; they'd gotten him out of many a tight pinch. He'd witnessed the brain housed behind that forehead at work; it moved twice as fast as his, perhaps even more than that. As to her chest…
After training with Jiraiya and only Jiraiya for almost three years, he'd picked up some of Ero-Sennin's less wholesome habits, and he knew for a fact that Sakura's breasts were not nearly as small as her clothes made them appear. Oh, they weren't huge by any stretch of the imagination, but he figured they'd fit his hands quite nicely.
He figured. There hadn't been an opportunity to test his theory out yet, and he wasn't openly searching for one. He preferred having all his sensibilities intact for as long a duration as possible, and Sakura would definitely scramble a few of them around if she guessed he not only peeked at her before, but thought perverted thoughts about her modesty on top of it.
Besides, Naruto was a man now, nearly eighteen years old, and he had perfected the trick of self-control.
Why, just this past week, he stopped himself from performing orioke no jutsu in front of Sakura, despite the fact that he really wanted to gauge its potency—he'd made some adjustments since its inception—and he'd had his chosen victim—Ebisu—cornered in an alley.
"Naruto, what are you doing?"
He had his hands positioned, ready to form the seal, when Sakura's voice sounded behind him, and he quickly dropped his arms, whipped his head around.
"Oh…nothing, Sakura-chan! Just catching up with Ebisu, here." He motioned at Konohamaru's former tutor, grinning at Sakura and then offering an altogether different grin to Ebisu. A say anything, and you'll regret it, grin. "We were about to go to the Ichiraku. Wanna come?"
Sakura had raised her eyebrows skeptically, though she did agree to tag along, and Ebisu found himself footing quite a hefty bill—mostly due to Naruto's extensive appetite.
Naruto assured the man he'd pay him back, but he hadn't said when, exactly.
Sooner or later, certainly.
But anyway, Naruto chalked that moment up as a notch further in his tightening maturity belt, his bullying of Ebisu aside. Mature men didn't act like lewd Ero-Sennins.
Keeping a respectable distance between himself and Sakura while making certain she was still within his line of sight, he passed a vendor selling fresh dango sticks and paused, tapping the edge of the mask in contemplation.
He liked dango. Not as much as Anko, the Special Jounin who had been known to exhibit behavior that people called "Naruto-like"—the real Naruto posed some objections to the term, though he didn't discourage its widespread use—but he liked it nonetheless, and his stomach was in the process of reminding him it required its hourly sustenance…
"I'll take four," he said cheerfully to the vendor, drawing the mask up to rest on the top of his head. He'd eat three of them himself, naturally, and spare one for Sakura. He knew she enjoyed her occasional dango, too.
The vendor, an older gentleman with a hint of a potbelly and crow's feet around his eyes, gave Naruto an appraising look. "I feel like I've seen you before," he said thoughtfully. "We get plenty of visitors during festivals, so it's hard to tell one person from the next, but there's something about you that's familiar."
Naruto thought back a moment, turning over the possibilities. "Oh…" He grinned sheepishly, rubbing the nape of his neck. "I was here a few years ago with Jiraiya. We were looking for oba-san—er, I mean, Tsunade," he amended quickly. Now that he mentioned it, he seemed to recall stopping for dango frequently during that trip, and he'd burned through his money fast. Instead of buying souvenirs on extended vacations, Naruto bought food. Lots of it.
"Jiraiya…the Sannin?" The vendor held out four skewers, and Naruto took them in one hand, using the other to reach into his pocket for his wallet. "Long hair, tattoos on his cheeks?"
"Yeah, that's him." He handed over a few coins to the vendor, and leaned in conspiratorially. "Though he's Ero-Sennin to me. He doesn't like me saying that, but he's not here to eavesdrop, anyway." Oba-san made up some sort of story to keep him rooted in Konoha for the week—something about hot springs and beautiful women. Jiraiya had whined about it at first, because he usually attended the Festival of the New Leaves in Crater City every year, but Naruto was convinced the whining was just for show. Whenever women and hot springs were involved, Jiraiya's true colors came out.
That, and Naruto had a sneaking suspicion Ero-Sennin and oba-san were involved. He'd seen the looks they'd given each other when they thought nobody else was paying attention, and the knowing half-smirks, and the discreet, yet deliberate, touches.
They both insisted their relationship was strictly platonic when Naruto broached the subject, of course. He let them have their delusions.
The vendor laughed. "I'll keep it secret," he promised solemnly, though his eyes twinkled. "I hope you enjoy the festival…what was your name?"
"Naruto." He respectfully inclined his head. "Uzumaki Naruto."
"Naruto…" The vendor smiled in recognition. "I do remember you. The loudmouth who wanted to be Hokage…but you were only a boy, then."
"And much shorter, too," Naruto replied impishly. He took a bite of dumpling. "Since you know my name, it's only fair that I know yours."
The vendor raised his eyebrows. "Otoya Nobu," he said.
Naruto's lips curled up. "I'll keep that in mind when I'm Hokage, Nobu-san," he said once he swallowed, and inclined his head again before setting off, leaving the charmed vendor to his potential customers.
The Festival of the New Leaves occurred annually at the beginning of the spring, and it was a hotbed of activity, attracting people from every country, civilians and ninja alike. Along with daily spectacles like wrestling matches and stage dramas, the festival doubled as a thriving trade market, where information was exchanged as much as tangible goods, which was the main reason oba-san ordered Naruto and Sakura to attend.
She had summoned them to her office on a Saturday morning, fairly early, at that. Naruto had barely managed to rub the sleep from his eyes. He stumbled blearily into the Hokage's administrative building, his yawns making his jaw crack. Tsunade's office was on the second floor, and she was there waiting for him with Sakura when he shambled in.
"You're late," they chorused together, shooting him identical looks of annoyed fondness that made him blink. They were so similar anymore it was almost creepy.
"Uh…" he rubbed absently at the stubble he hadn't had a chance to shave off, and Sakura snorted.
"You look like a mangy dog," she remarked in an amused voice, and hooked her ankle around the leg of the chair opposite her, drawing it out. "Sit."
His movements zombie-like and jerky, Naruto managed to drag himself to the chair and plopped down with a sigh. He stayed up reading last night—volume ten of Jiraiya's sprawling epic, Icha Icha Rumble—and he regretted it now. "What's going on?" he croaked.
Tsunade leaned back, her clasped hands resting on her flat belly, beneath her overripe cleavage. "As I'm sure you're aware, the Festival of the New Leaves begins on Monday." She glanced pointedly at both of them. "I want you two to go and spy for me."
That got Naruto's attention. He sat up. "Spy?"
Sakura nodded perceptively. "In other words, you want us to keep our ears open for plots."
"Correct." Tsunade smiled approvingly at her pupil. "I always like to have a few of our own among the crowd in case something's brewing that I haven't heard about. Plus, it's a good way to find out what our neighbors have been up to."
"But why us?" Naruto scratched his chin. He really did need to shave. "Not that I mind going with Sakura-chan or anything," he added prudently, so she wouldn't get the wrong impression. On the contrary, the thought of spending a week with her made him happier than he'd been when the Ichiraku introduced three new ramen flavors a month ago.
Sakura chewed her lip. "I was wondering the same thing, Tsunade-shishou…"
Tsunade's answering grin was downright wicked.
"I chose the best ninja for the task. You should understand." She fixed her gaze on Sakura, who immediately flushed.
Naruto's brow furrowed. "Huh?"
"Sakura'll explain it to you later. You're dismissed."
"Hokage-sama." Sakura stood up. "Come on, Naruto."
Utterly confused—most of that conversation had flown way over his head—Naruto also rose and followed Sakura out, a little more awake now.
"What the hell just happened?" He asked as they strode down the hall. "Oba-san's so weird…" His stomach rumbled loudly, and he pressed his palm against it in a halfhearted attempt to shut it up.
Sakura set a brisk pace, expression unreadable.
"Couples blend in at festivals," she said, as if she were reasoning with herself as she explained. "You and I are…closer than a lot of the other pairs Tsunade-shishou could have sent, so it won't be as hard to pretend. That's why we're the best for the job."
Naruto couldn't say for certain, but he thought Sakura hesitated at the "closer" part.
He felt rather smug about that, mostly because she didn't deny their friendship wasn't quite as platonic as it used to be.
While not an expert on relationships, Naruto figured the somewhat frequent (the frequency had increased as of late) makeout sessions and the low-key, yet still innuendo-ridden, phrases they flung back and forth didn't often occur between people who were merely friends.
Pretending to be a couple for a week…
Yeah, he could definitely swing that, no problem.
"So, Sakura-chan." He slung an arm around her shoulders and waggled his eyebrows. "Why don't we get this party started early?"
She gave him an arch look, like he had just made the stupidest joke in the history of stupid jokes, though the corner of her mouth quirked.
"I hate stubble," she said bluntly, and Naruto let out a bark of laughter.
"How about after I shave?"
"How about after I punch you?"
"Got it, got it." She really would punch him. He knew from experience. School of hard knocks. Inhumanly hard, where Sakura was concerned.
All in good fun, though. She never meant it when she hit him—she told him so herself. Well…there were a few times she meant it. Like when he stole one of her bras as a keepsake and she found it wadded up in his shuriken holster. And when he nearly got his head taken off when he walked into a pretty obvious trap because he was half-asleep. And…
Okay, so he'd done a lot of dumb things that warranted some serious punching.
But afterward, Sakura apologized and assured him he'd benefit from her beatings in the future.
Whether that future was distant or in close proxmity had yet to be determined.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Scruffy," Sakura said once they exited the administrative building, and patted his cheek. "Meet me by the gates at eleven. And don't forget to shave," she added ominously.
"Yeah, yeah, I won't."
And he didn't.
Polishing off his third dango stick, Naruto flipped his mask back down and decided now was the perfect time to catch up with Sakura. She'd acted very mysterious that morning when Naruto rapped on the door adjoining their suites—Sakura's idea. According to her, getting separate rooms would destroy their "couple" image, but adjoining rooms would allow them to pull it off, because it would suggest that they wanted to be close while being conscious of chastity issues…or something.
"I'll see you out there," she told him, waving a negligent hand. "Now shoo."
She'd had a dreamy look in her eyes, the kind that usually meant she was in another place altogether, and Naruto caught a brief glimpse of the cosmetics strewn across her bed before she closed the door in his face.
Once he saw her hair and her kimono and her parasol, everything clicked.
"Girls…" He shook his head and chuckled.
Sakura idly rotated the handle of her parasol, taking in the atmosphere of this place. Unlike Naruto, this was her first visit to Crater City—so named for its unique location in the middle of a massive ground depression, and though she'd heard stories about the Festival of the New Leaves, she hadn't had the chance to attend.
Both working at a hospital and completing missions Tsunade-shishou assigned her severely limited her leisure time.
She may not have openly rejoiced, but the prospect of having a week to just be a girl quite appealed to her.
Hell, the company quite appealed to her, too, if she were to be honest. Yeah, Naruto could be a hapless buffoon sometimes, but she always had fun with him because she could relax in his presence. She didn't have to put up a front or be careful of what she said, and that was a blessing she took advantage of.
Besides, she knew Naruto would appreciate her kimono. Sasuke would glance at it impassively and make a noncommittal "hn" noise.
Overall, his lack of attention came as a disappointment. Sakura had entertained a few silly fantasies about Saskue falling madly in love with her, calling her a living goddess, and declaring he would die if he couldn't have her, however those fantasies grew stale the longer they sat on the shelf.
Sasuke had his own way of doing things, and the fact that he was emotionally stunted didn't help.
He'd even said festivals were "frivolous."
Of course they were. That was the entire point—though he didn't see it, despite how often she'd tried to enlighten him.
She wasn't here with Sasuke, anyway. She was here with Naruto, and damn it all, she was going to enjoy herself.
Starting with the kimono.
Her parents bought it for her as a birthday gift when she turned sixteen, and it had hung, unworn save for the times she'd tried it on in front of the mirror, in her closet for almost two years.
Totally depressing, because it looked amazing on her.
Sakura grinned. She'd kicked Naruto out of her room that morning because she didn't want him to see it yet. The devious part of her would rather his jaw drop in public, so everyone would know how attracted he was to her.
Ask her why she felt this way, and she'd draw a blank.
They played so many games, her and Naruto, and she wouldn't lose sleep over not understanding them all.
People called her crazy because of that.
"You have the strangest relationship with that boy," Ino remarked once, while they were chatting at a teahouse. "I'm never sure if you're together or not. It's irritating."
Funnily enough, she'd heard similar comments about her and Sasuke.
"I'm never sure, either," she replied honestly, twirling her spoon around in her tea, which prompted an exaggerated sigh from Ino.
"This is what I mean," she said, biting off the edge of a biscuit. "You need to quit fooling around and figure it out, Sakura."
Oh, she knew that. She knew that better than anyone.
Who said she was ready to figure it out? What if she liked things the way they were?
Bah. No use thinking about it now.
Sakura neared a cluster of shops all painted in bright, eye-catching colors and offering a wide variety of wares, from jewelry to potted plants. She veered toward a shop that displayed an interesting set of gilded chopsticks in the window.
She paused. There were hundreds of people here, but that voice sounded familiar.
Sakura turned her head. A man dressed in a simple, powder blue kimono and wooden thong sandals approached her. He wore a traditional cat-shaped festival mask, so she couldn't see his face, but she swore he had Naruto's build.
"Are you alone, miss? It seems like a crime, for such a lovely lady to wander around by herself at a festival."
"I am alone," Sakura replied blithely. "Or at least, I was alone."
"Then I'm lucky to have found you." The man offered her his arm, and she rested her hand on it in a demure fashion, secretly pleased.
She knew without any semblance of a doubt her impromptu escort was Naruto. It'd be a while before he could fool her, mask or no mask.
"Lucky, indeed. You found me first."
"Oh? Were you waiting for someone?"
Sakura eyed him sidelong. He had a dango stick in his left hand, and she wondered how long he'd been holding it, considering Naruto's insatiable love for food.
"As a matter of fact, yes. I wanted to show him my kimono."
There was a brief pause in the conversation.
"Is this fool your lover?"
Sakura almost laughed, but she bit her lip instead.
"Maybe. I'll only ever be a mistress, though."
"He's a married man?"
Sakura appeared thoughtful. "I suppose you could say that." To his ramen…
"Well, he isn't worth it, because you're not showing your beautiful kimono to him."
She smiled. "Nicely put."
"It is a beautiful kimono, you know."
And this was why she wore it. This was the payoff. Only Naruto could say that and leave her convinced of his sincerity.
Because he wasn't just talking about the kimono. His tone of voice indicated far more, and frankly, she liked the way his confession made her feel. Warm. Giddy.
"I'll bet you say that to all the girls." On an impulse born out of sheer mischief, she kissed his masked cheek and grabbed the dango stick. "Thanks, Naruto." She nibbled on one of the dumplings, eyes dancing with suppressed mirth.
"Awww…" The mask came up, revealing Naruto's rueful face. "I was hoping you wouldn't guess until later. What gave it away?"
"Everything." She giggled. "I know you too well." Nibbling really wasn't cutting it, so Sakura tossed proper etiquette to the wind and took a large bite. She'd been hungrier than she thought. "These are excellent."
"I ate three of 'em," Naruto admitted. "But I saved the fourth for you. Aren't you proud?"
"Exceedingly." Sakura moved on to the second dumpling. She could probably polish off three herself. "Oh!" Switching the skewer to the hand gripping the parasol, she reached into her obi and drew out a rather flimsy piece of cloth. "Here." She passed it to Naruto, who looked at it in befuddlement.
"What…is this a loincloth?" He stretched it between his hands, eyebrows raised.
Sakura smirked. The kimono wasn't the only reason she ordered him to scat.
"I entered you in the wrestling tournament," she said solemnly. "And my honor is at stake, so make sure you win."
End, chapter one.