Comments: It's been a long time, I know. I have had a lot of trouble with this chapter, with finding the right tone. I hope you enjoy it anyway, and I can promise that I won't wait a billion years before I do the next update. As a note, some of you might notice some references to Chapter 1 in the following scene. Thanks go out to JadeSabre301 for helping me spot-check this chapter, and for her enthusiastic support.
On Titles: Until now the chapter titles have been lyrics from the Chapter 1's song "XXX" by Crushing Velvet. I ran out of verses from that song, so from now on they'll probably take from the song I'm listening to when I write the chapter.
Soundtrack for this chapter: The White Stripes – "Good To Me"
9 – And it'll always be good to me, Always be good to me
After her conspiracy confession to Ino, Sakura used the rest of the weekend to develop The Plan.
The Plan was a list of tactics and techniques, more than half of them recommended by her friend. Sakura had included some of her own ideas, and she felt the end result was a polished work of analysis and hypothesis. Sakura was sure—pretty sure—that Kakashi was attracted to her, so the cruel, confidence-killing part of the plan was already over. She didn't have to work hard to make him notice her, because based on his behavior the last two weeks Kakashi noticed so many things about Haruno Sakura that he might have been conducting research project. The trick now was to get him to notice her the right way. The fun way, she thought. The...available way.
By Tuesday afternoon she felt comfortable enough to give it a try. First step: be everywhere. Keep yourself on his mind at all times. She started at the source. After banging on his door eight times, it opened and a sullen looking Hatake Kakashi greeted her.
"You missed your routine immunization check-up at the hospital," Sakura announced. "You could be punished for that."
Sakura watched carefully, but Kakashi didn't move a muscle. He held himself still—unnaturally still—as he said, "Punished?"
She gave him a cat-grin. "Fiscally. Don't get immunized, don't get paid." Inwardly, Sakura was starting to get nervous. She'd thought for sure the word "punished" would get some kind of reaction out of him. How was he so cool again, all of a sudden?
"Did you draw the short straw?"
"My shift is beginning in half an hour. I volunteered to leave a few minutes early to grab you and take you myself."
"Take me," Kakashi echoed, dry as paper. Sakura kept her smile. This conversation had gone on for three minutes already, which was right on schedule. A little more prompting and he'd be trailing her to the hospital. She couldn't say exactly why she was confident of this; she just knew it would happen.
Lean in a little more, like Ino said, it will only help. She bent her body forward, so that she almost passed the invisible wall of his doorway. Penetrate his personal space.
"You know, since you're a Class-S delinquent when it comes to medical policies. Someone has to make sure you show up, and now that we're friends, that's me! I don't know why you're afraid of hospitals." Something...there—THERE! She saw him twitch. He definitely reacted. Finally, he was being entirely too stiff and weird this morning. I need him to relax around me a little more. Comfort was the key.
But not too much comfort, of course. Sakura reached out and grabbed Kakashi's forearm. "Come," she said, and tugged to get him out of the house. Sakura almost stumbled when he came along too. Willingly! She'd been expecting more resistance. But this was good! In fact, this was excellent. She dropped his arm and instead pressed on the center of his back, between the shoulder blades. She propelled him forward so as to send a clear, medical message that he was not going to be allowed to bail on her. Sakura might have been younger, and of lesser rank, but she had Your Shinobi Health Care Policy on her side, all capitalizations included.
"Why are you so chipper?" Kakashi asked as they turned onto the street. Sakura shoved her hands into her pockets, but was careful to walk closer to his side than normal. Not quite close enough to be obvious to everyone else who passed, but enough that her elbow sometimes brushed his arm. Establish and maintain physical contact, Ino had said. Start small, and build.
"I had an amazing birthday weekend, and tomorrow I am going to scout out my own place. I want something with lots of, hm, size. Something big. Then again, I'll probably only be able to afford something small and cramped and hot."
"Why hot?" said Kakashi after a brief silence. Whether he was quiet because they were crossing a lane that swung past the memorial or because of what she'd said, Sakura wasn't sure.
"Air conditioning is expensive. For that, I'd have to move in with someone."
"Ah. Of course."
"At least until I take the jounin exam. In three months I'll qualify for the higher-paying missions."
Kakashi raised his only visible eyebrow, and said, "You're that certain you'll pass?"
Sakura moved closer and said in a stage whisper, "I have a secret weapon."
"Oh? What kind."
"Pure pernicious tenacity, the direct result of five years on a team with Naruto."
Kakashi conceded this experience was a leg-up in any competition, and their walk continued for about a mile and a half in pleasant, unforced conversation. Sakura did most of the talking, but when he contributed his answers were witty, frequently laced with a twisted, cynical kind of optimism which would have sounded contradictory coming from anyone else.
Sakura found herself smiling genuinely, enjoying the walk. Kakashi was an easy-going guy, if somewhat recalcitrant, and today he seemed less annoying than usual. She remembered that he used to annoy her all the time, though looking back the reason for thinking so was a bit…fuzzy. It'd had a lot to do with his tardiness, and—if she thought about it objectively—the fact that he always put her in a pairing with Naruto instead of Sasuke.
Then there was the lying, of course. That had positively riled her as a genin. Back when Sakura believed all adults should be somehow obligated to live up to the label. If Kakashi were lying now, well, they weren't exactly talking about anything important, so she'd let him off the hook. Nevertheless, it was time to up the game a notch; they were getting nearer to the main medical building. One last block and her opportunity would be gone.
She stopped him on the sidewalk with a hand lightly pressed to the place where collarbone met shoulder. Here goes.
"Wait a second," said Sakura. "There's something on your neck."
She noted the frown assembling behind Kakashi's mask, and acted. The young medic-nin moved her fingers up to touch the limited amount of skin that sat exposed between Kakashi's cloth-covered chin and his jacket collar. Now, before he thinks about your motives! Sakura brushed lightly at the area with the pads of her fingertips, standing on her tip-toes and pouting in concentration. She leaned on the older man, tilted her neck so he could see her own skin, and tugged his collar down.
And he let her do it. He's letting me do this. On the street, in front of people, Hatake Kakashi was allowing Sakura to touch him. Her free hand squeezed his nearest elbow for balance.
"It's some kind of insect bite, I think." Keep going, keep going! Lean closer, closer—oh wow, he smells like beef jerky—come on... "I can't quite tell. It might—"
One moment Kakashi was practically supporting her full weight, the next the man had vanished and Sakura had to do some fancy twists to avoid falling over. She looked around for her prey, and spotted the double doors to the hospital ahead. One swung lightly on its hinges.
Ahah! At least he didn't ditch his immunization appointment. Sakura had strong feelings about a preventative approach to health care. She clapped her hands together once and rocked on her heels.
"Well," she said, and relished the satisfaction in her voice. "That was educational."