Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of the characters in the series! I simply borrow them to do my bidding is all...
Chapter 8: The True King of The Blueberries -
Chapter 8: The True King of The Blueberries
One liver spot.
"Where're the other brats?"
Two liver spots.
"Kakashi-sensei sent them on another mission, sir."
Three liver spots.
"Did he? No doubt because he knew today it was when I'd requested this mission! All you shinobi are greedy money grubbers! You think you can waltz in whenever you feel and then half ass a job! Hear that, Kakashi? Your advisors are going to hear about this…!"
"Four liver spots."
"What was that, moron?"
"Mm?" Kakashi blinked. "Oh, I'm sorry. The liver spots above your monobrow are slightly distracting."
"I'm… I'm sorry, sir!" Sakura gasped, quickly bending to bestow a harsh shove to her sensei left shoulder. "Kakashi-sensei, ever since the pigeon-- uhm, turkeynin attacked us, he's not been quite acting himself!"
"Sakura," Kakashi said, addressing his student who remained adamant on ignoring him.
A red in the face Hiroshi directed Kakashi a glare born of pure hatred, which, of course, Kakashi returned with a blank stare. Hiroshi returned his beetle-eyes to Sakura and snorted.
"Hiroshi-sama, I apologize for our tardiness. Kakashi-sensei and I expect just as much work as you would have given us had Naruto or Sasuke been here with us! I can assure you that even without the others, we're capable of meeting the expectations! Well, minus the punctuality… but other than that, sir, if--"
"Moron!" Hiroshi sneered, "now that I've requested for another team, most of the chores are done!"
"Right…" the pink-haired girl responded quietly.
"Very good point," Kakashi interjected, "which is exactly why Sakura and I will gladly request another missi--"
"Hiroshi-sama!" Lee mewled, breaking Kakashi's attempt at bail as he toddled over to regard the fogey with that eager edge driven by desperation. "Tenten, Neji and I would not mind help with some chores-- right guys?" With this he angled a pair of expectant, glossy fish eyes at his fellow teammates, of whom, were still glued to one another, one( it wasn't hard to guess who) against their will.
Tenten blinked, subsequently nodding when she soon caught onto her friend's silent plea. "Yeah, yeah, sure! The more help we have, the quicker the mission is over, right sweetie?" Tenten tugged at the dangling band of Neji's headwear, oblivious to the resulting gathering of his eyebrows and corresponding narrowing of pale eyes.
"Of course," the Hyuga drawled dryly, "the faster, the better."
The old man's beady eyes squinted at Sakura before snapping to her sensei and regarding the said jonin with a sour grimace. "Fine!" he finally said. "The faster you shinobi do this the faster you slackers can all get out of my hair!"
Nobody replied to Hiroshi's expression of choice, though the resonating silence it left behind unanimously rung 'What hair??'
With Sakura and Lee's mutual sigh of relief, Hiroshi was quick to add, "that means no breaks! I want you all done and your stinking carcasses off my property by noon!"
"Yes, sir!" Gai and his clone chimed with a curt salute that was so in sync it was scary.
"Sakura…" Kakashi tried again. But, as fate occurred, he was inevitably interrupted, and even then, he had the growing suspicion that Sakura was deliberately ignoring him.
"I'm so happy he said you can stay!" Lee exclaimed, cheeks nearly as pink as the obnoxious frilly eyesore he currently trying to squirm out of-- thank goodness. Eagerly looping an arm around Sakura's and tossing the apron to his sensei, he then scampered on toward the back door, poor pink-headed girl in tow and his teammates trailing after.
Kakashi's eye narrowed with frustration. He could see his chance to steal out of the situation quickly slipping out of his fingers.
"Sakura? Perhaps you and I should both st--" he began with a haphazard step forward, but, because bad things, and more over, people loved to happen to him, Gai swooped out of the blue and abducted him by the arm in much the same fashion Lee had done Sakura.
"Kakashi!" Gai beamed, apron folded over one arm and poor scarecrow the other. Kakashi scowled. "You and I will finish tending to the kitchen! Ha ha ha! After that, we can dust the library! And then Hiroshi-sama has some trees that need trimming! Wah hah! The good times to come!"
The silver-headed man emitted a relinquished sigh and rubbed at his ear as somehow within the course of the last few seconds, it seemed to have lost some ability to hear. "Oh, it'll be magical," he said, lacking the enthusiasm that suffocated him like the pillow he found himself wishing he had.
"That's the spirit, eternal rival! Now, chop chop!" Gai cried, ripping the rooted Kakashi from his spot and leading him into the direction of the kitchen.
"Hey, I have an idea, Gai," Kakashi said, his voice a happy cue just above sardonic as he suggested, "Perhaps we should help our students with their chore first. The more the merrier, right?"
"Ha ha ha! Nonsense!" was Gai's response. "The four of them will work beautifully together! After all, the glorious thralls of youth have cast a spell unto our pupils!"
A single silver eyebrow rise was his response. "Come again?" Kakashi questioned, watching in silent despair as his student, kidnapped by Gai's yes man, disappeared behind the corner he was so cruelly steered behind.
"Why Kakashi, you don't know?" Gai asked before he at last released his unnecessary hold of Kakashi's arm and found his way to the kitchen sink with a smirk that effectively crept Kakashi out. Just a little more than usual.
"Mm?" Kakashi blinked. He wasn't accustomed to hounding his 'Eternal Rival' for conversation, as he usually was trying to worm out of it, however, being as he felt something of his was indirectly referenced to, he felt a little obliged. "Why Gai, no I do not," Kakashi drawled, complete with eye creases that contradicted his evident undertone of sarcasm. "Please enlighten me with your oh-so superior and limitless knowledge?"
What do you get when your thick skull automatically filters sarcasm from statements? None other a compliment, of course!
Gai reveled in his false sense of superiority, typically grinning from ear to ear and becoming rather eager to bestow upon his rival the information he lacked. "As of late," he began as he climbed into the lovely pink apron his student had given him, "Neji and Tenten have initiated the beautiful act of courtship! Like two love birds at the start of spring!"
Gai soon clasped his hands together. "Before, I wasn't sure what to make of it. But my dear Tenten has had her eyes on Neji since even the moment our magnificent team was composed-- love at first site, such is the bewitchment many a-youth is slave to! Even after he denied her, she never gave up! Never! A true Team Gai prodigy, that gal!"
With Gai's ever manly sniff, proud, brimming eyes in addition to his already queer attire, Kakashi rolled his. "I'm sorry. I was under the impression that you had something that wasn't completely worthless to tell me," the Copynin replied dryly before he produced Icha Icha from his vest and thumbed through the pages.
Alas, he was condemned to fall victim to Gai's mindless ranting. At least he had something worthwhile to help preserve his patience during this…
"Two weeks ago, I will admit, I was a beyond overprotective with the news of Tenten having found herself a boyfriend. But, when I discovered that it was none other than our own Neji, I was delighted! I did not have to worry that my innocent little Tenten had taken into arms some lowly filth that was not worthy of her youth and her lotus…"
Kakashi's eye twitched.
Gai continued, "… but as it is none other than our own, I feel confident that he will fulfill her needs and wants. Become the butter to her toast! The kunai to her shuriken! The jelly to her buns!"
"And, you'd like her to be where you could keep an eye on her," Kakashi finished for him even as his gaze glided mechanically across a page.
Gai chuckled, "Yours is like that, too? With the Uchiha boy?"
The Copynin angled his line of sight to Guy and shrugged. "Yes, along with rest of the naïve girls in the village," he said. "But, I think she's realized. She can do better. Way better than someone like him."
"Those are my thoughts exactly!" Gai hollered abruptly, resulting in Kakashi's bewildered attention. "She needs someone that will relish her. Someone that will treasure her as the lovely little gem that she is!"
The silver-haired jonin stared. "Sure, of course," said he, slowly, suspiciously.
"You haven't heard yet have you?" was Kakashi's reply, and it was Gai's turn to feel the drastic spiral of his inferiority complex do to the absence of knowledge.
"Heard what yet?" he echoed, caterpillar brows tilting curiously.
"Oh, just that Sakura is already seeing someone. From what I understand, they're serious," Kakashi said as he occupied his gaze once more to his novel.
"She's serious with someone?" Gai repeated.
"Who is it?" He leaned in.
"Oh, well, you see…" Kakashi itched his jaw line.
"Takahashi," Kakashi repeated. He remembered hearing some blonde, Sakura's annoying two-faced friend, throwing around the name a few days ago as to whom Sakura's boyfriend was. Kakashi might as well enforce the lie with the ripe pickings of the fruit of his labor.
"This is going to crush Lee!" Gai grimaced.
"I'm sure he knows," Kakashi said, flipping to the next page of his obnoxiously orange book. "Just about everyone," courtesy to Ino, "in the village knows about it."
"Do you also become protective about her?"
"Not at all." Lies. "I rather think she can look after herself. She's eighteen after all; she's a capable shinobi and responsible young woman. She's experienced enough to make decisions and then accept the consequences of them. Whoever she chooses to date, it's up to her. Wouldn't you agree?"
"I suppose you're right," Gai nodded.
"Naturally," Kakashi hummed, as if his being right was the most obvious thing in the whole of Konoha.
Despite Kakashi's preach of Sakura being her own woman and being capable of choosing her own boyfriends and whatnot, the idea of her lingering around Rock Lee, even at that second, was maddening to the Copynin. Yes, the catch to this excerpt was that she wasn't allowed to date anyone other than Kakashi.
"Oh, Lee! How his heart must have crumbled when he heard! He has always pined after her, that Sakura. In the same manner I imagine she did Sasuke or Tenten Neji. How can he bear to be near her even now, knowing that she belongs to another? The tragic ache in his heart he must be experiencing!"
"Poor thing," Kakashi replied in a tone indefinitely lacking compassion. He furrowed his eyebrows and sighed. Lee would no doubt tiptoe around the boyfriend subject( if he wasn't already ), gradually pecking information from Sakura like a starved little chicken. Surely enough, he'd discover there is no boyfriend and never was. And then he'd ever so delicately ask Sakura about it and inform her where that sketchy rumor had really started.
In which case, it would probably be in Kakashi's best interest to get a head start for some ingenious hiding place. In Konoha? Nah. He'd only turn up floating in its famous river the next morning. Suna? Not a chance; still too easy-- Haruno-style sand coffin, anyone? A remote island somewhere off the coast of Sound? Bingo! That was more like it.
"Oi!" cried an ugly voice from the kitchen entrance and Kakashi and Gai both looked to see one human prune glowering at them. Well, actually, the glower was more or less directed at Kakashi. Big surprise. "Less chit chat and more scrubbing!" Hiroshi snarled, flashing atrocious gnarly teeth at the pair of them.
"Yes sir, Hiroshi-sama, sir!" Gai responded with a wholehearted smile, one that was nearly as blinding as Hiroshi's, but his of a different cause.
Was it a sin for anyone to have plain, normal teeth around here? Was that too much for a poor, frustrated shinobi to ask?
"You, ass-face! I want you to clean the floor! " He narrowed his eyebrows at the lackadaisical Copynin who regarded him with, well, to be honest, he didn't seem to regard him at all. "I'm talking to you, jerk!"
"I'm sorry. I keep getting distracted by those grotesque old people stains on your forehead. Ever consider combing your hair over those things?" asked Kakashi offhandedly, gesturing with his free hand to his own brow. "Oh, whoops. You do seem to be lacking in that department. You know," he leaned in. "I hear they sell superb wigs in Mist. You're a well-off fellow; why not look into it?"
By the time Kakashi next continued, he was already toddling on past Hiroshi, hand in pocket and the other storing Icha Icha into his vest. "Gai," he paused to throw an offhand look over his shoulder, "This time I want to propose a new match. Your team against mine; which can complete their tasks the fastest. Team Seven will keep to the garden and Ten will apply themselves to the household. You even have the advantage; two of my students aren't here. Whoever completes their chores first not only win, but get the entirety of the earnings for this mission. This is your opportunity to outdo me, Gai. Try not to disappoint."
With that, the silver head quitted the kitchen, leaving in his wake two gaping jaws.
Alright. So Sakura was completely insane. She'd gone and accepted the mission. Even when almost promised not to get anywhere near decent pay. She did it so she could spend time with Lee. How special.
"So, Lee, what's our first task?" she asked as the boy escorted her through the garden by the elbow.
Rock Lee offered her a wide, over-enthusiastic smile, as was the norm with him. "We are to harvest the bushes for their berries and put them into these baskets," he pointed to the indicated wicker baskets just before them. "And then we have to clean the garden pond."
"Oh, well that seems to be easy enough," Sakura stated, unhooking her arm from Lee's ( to his dismay ) to scoop up a basket. Approaching the bushes, Sakura cheerfully observed, "Blueberries, right?"
"Yeah, the old geezer has billions of them in this place," Tenten snickered, trotting on over, collecting her basket, and situating herself at the next bush over. Neji took his time to follow suit, but he did, and it surprised Sakura endlessly to witness the Hyuga place himself loyally at her side like a well-behaved dog, even after the Neji-abuse.
"Very good guess, Sakura!" Lee nodded, "Do you happen to like blueberries? They are a favorite of mine." He stooped to pick up his own basket, seconds later, appearing at Sakura's side.
"Mmhm," Sakura hummed as she reached forward to begin the tedious task of relieving the bush of its stock in all its blueberry goodness.
"This is just like a double date," Tenten sighed sweetly. Sakura couldn't help the way her eyebrow twitched at the suggestion.
"Hey Neji!" addressed Lee suddenly and everyone's eyes turned to him. Rock Lee struck a pose, his fists gathered and his toothbrush eyebrows angled diagonally. "I challenge you to a blueberry picking contest! If I cannot collect more than you by the time sixty seconds have passed, I will gladly acknowledge you as the Blueberry Picking Champion, King of all Blueberries!"
Neji stared at Lee. Lee stared back.
"No," was the solitary drawn out syllable that passed the Hyuga's lips.
"But Neeeejiiii!" came Tenten's cry and she drummed at his chest with a frown. "You have to!"
"No, I do not 'have to'. I refuse to compete for such an embarrassing title," he huffed, failing to waver even after his girlfriend proceeded to drape herself over him.
"Pleeease?" she begged. "Do it for your girlfriend?"
Neji sighed. "Okay, okay. Fine."
"Woohoo!" Rock Lee whooped. Tenten smiled. Sakura blinked.
"But after this over, I don't wish to hear anything about my being a 'Blueberry King', " Neji said before performing a hand sign with is left hand and initiating his Byakugan. "Are you ready, Lee?"
"I was born ready, brotha'!" was Lee's answer and he hop-skipped over to an opposite bush, basket at the ready. "Sakura! I will win the title to prove my eternal love to you!"
Sakura nodded slowly. "…Sure."
Queen of the Blueberries. How charming.
"Alright, guys!" Tenten exclaimed with a giggle, "Ready? Set… Go!" And so the Tournament of the Blueberries commenced. The sound of rustling leaves and Tenten's cheers soon filled the air. "Yeeeah! Go Neji! Ne-ji! Ne-ji! Ne-ji! Keep it up, sweetie!"
Rock Lee was fast, Sakura noted. Exceedingly, but it wasn't like it came to her as anything of surprise. He maneuvered splendidly, plucking the berries with rapid and efficient motions that steadily filled his basket. Sakura was impressed, she admitted to herself.
Though, when she looked to Neji, she could say that she was equally amazed. Neji's own movements were more subtle than Lee's. Each fluid flick of his wrist and stab of his index and middle finger to a various point on the bush resulted in a heavy rain of blueberries, each one he was able to catch expertly in his basket.
Come thirty seconds, Neji's movements stilled and he was holding a overflowing basket. "That's enough, Lee," he said, chin poking out and his voice full of pride, "My basket is full."
"Agh!" Lee gasped, "I was sooooo close, too!"
"Yay, Neji! You won!" giggled Tenten, taking the liberty to leech onto her smug boyfriend.
Rock Lee sighed, "I am sorry, Sakura. I lost."
"Oh, it's alright, Lee," Sakura smiled kindly. She wasn't sure that she wanted to be Mrs. Blueberry anyways. "You did your best!"
Tenten took this time to stoop and pluck a fat berry from Neji's brimming basket. "Neji! Taste this one!" she purred as she bent forward to pop a berry into the Hyuga's mouth. Neji sealed it before the brunette ever had a chance.
"Mmf! No, Tenten. Behave yourself!" he growled as best he could without letting the persistent little Tenten stick the thing down his throat.
"Open up, honey," she purred, prodding the blueberry at him until she'd effectively smashed part of the fruit to his lips.
"Stop it! I don't want--" he hissed, but it was too late. With an awkward-sounding gulp!, Neji's face contorted, paled, and then proceeded to have the color return in the form of a vibrant blush.
"So?" Tenten asked, a cloyingly expectant smile spread across her lips, "how are they? I dunno myself. Blueberries are nasty."
Lee and Sakura both watched this warily, Sakura half expecting Neji to Eight Trigrams Tenten then and there. But once again, she was baffled when the boy simply shrugged and looked away with a scowl, not unlike the way Sakura imagined Sasuke might have. Tenten typically giggled and bent forward to kiss the berry juice from her boyfriend's mouth. Sakura looked away, suddenly feeling awkward watching this forward display of affection, a peeping Tom.
Her attention was then put onto Lee with his next startling gesture.
Expect him to get ideas…
"Sakura, may I?" Lee peeped with a smile, leaning toward her with his hand outstretched, a plump little berry betwixt his fingers. Two pink eyebrows raised with alarm and Sakura, taken aback, shouldered his attempt impromptu. Lee blinked three times, a slow, nervous smile twisting his lips. "I," he murmured, "am sorry."
Sakura's eyes went wide with alarm. "Lee, no, I… uh, you just caught me off guard," she said quickly. "Look, see? Try now," she opened her mouth, green eyes closed and rosy eyebrows crooked awkwardly.
Rock Lee shook his head and raised two hands with a vague smile, "It is okay, Sakura, I… I understand. I do not know what I was thinking! Stupid, stupid me!" He slapped himself in his forehead, making Sakura frown.
"Lee? I don't understand. What do you mean?"
"Oh thaaat's right. Sakura, aren't you already an item with someone?" Tenten asked with a sly smile, suddenly back from her Neji-harrassment, and her eyebrows waggling in a way that brought Sakura's down in a bitter scowl.
And there it was. Sakura knew she had it coming sooner or later. Sakura couldn't help but to notice how all the eyes in the immediate area had turned to regard her curiously, Lee's slightly more apprehensive.
"You guys," she began with a grimace. "Did Ino tell you that?"
"Nope," Tenten purred. "I told her."
"I..." Tenten seemed suddenly more hesitant. "I told her?"
Sakura's eyes were as wide as her mouth. Temporarily. Because next her teeth were grit into something so savage that Ms. Brunetta Talks Alot ducked behind her boyfriend, cowering. Neji looked defensive.
"Haruno, if you've got a problem, then answer to me," Neji said thickly, his eyes slits and his arms crossed. "I told Tenten."
"You did?" Sakura said, her knuckles going white. She tried to maintain her cool. "And who, sweet Neji, who told you?"
That's when three sets of eyes simultaneously turned to face a viciously flustered Rock Lee, who was fidgeting with the handle to his basket and deliberately staring at the ground.
"Lee told me," Neji replied pointedly as if the guilty aura Rock Lee was emanating wasn't enough to guess.
"Lee?" Sakura echoed, schooling her voice to be level. "You... Y-you started the rumor?"
"Yes, that is, I did not mean to start it, Sakura! I simply discovered Kakashi-sensei trapped to the oak two days ago and when I asked him to get an answer from you, about you know," Lee blushed, "he said that you have a boyfriend. I-I told Neji and that is it!" Lee became glassy-eyed and sniffed. "I am so sorry for being the cause of the gossip about your relationship, Sakura! I did not mean for this-- to betray you in such an unforgivable way! Give me a punishment! One-thousand push-ups! Two-thousand jumping jacks! Three-thousand laps around the--"
"Lee," Sakura said quietly. "I'm not mad at you."
Her sensei, of course, was not so lucky.
Lee nodded and wiped at his eyes and nose on the bandages from his wrist. Sakura grimaced, and though she affected to look composed, inwardly she was beginning to nurture a rather venomous resentment for a particular jonin. A 'particular jonin', fate would have it, that was coincidentally strolling into the vicinity presently. He really did have bad timing.
All eyes( save Sakura's ) turned to acknowledge Kakashi.
"Kakashi-sensei!" tweeted Tenten, sweet as ever. "What's going on?"
"Hm… Nothing much," he answered. "I'm just here to notify you all that our teams as of this moment are competing. Gai's team is doing all the indoor chores, while Team Seven,"-- or what was left of it anyways, "will be completing the ones to be done out here. Step lively now. Your sensei's pride is on the line."
Kakashi watched, satisfied, as three chunin obediently scurried inside. He waited a moment before walking over to his student, who simply continued to gather berries… with a slightly edgier fervor.
"Hello, Sakura-chan. How're you?" he asked pleasantly, and when Sakura abruptly paused her collecting, he held his breath. But when she continued again, Kakashi just assumed the day's precarious situation had just gotten him paranoid and twitchy.
"Fine. Just collecting berries," Sakura hummed in a too cheerful voice that sent a chill crawling up his spine.
"What kind of berries?" Kakashi asked carefully, schooling his tone to be just as good-natured as his student's and trying to accurately gauge his pupil's mood. That paranoia, you see.
"Oh, blueberries. Have you had any?"
"Sure. After all, I seem to be having plenty of things lately." Kakashi blinked ever so slowly. "Berries. Boyfriends," she murmured as she turned to direct narrowed jade eyes at her teacher, "You know, things of that nature."
Kakashi gazed fixedly at the sky. "Ah," he sighed, just in time to witness a wicker basket of berries whirr past his head.
"I hate you, Kakashi-sensei!" next came Sakura's shrill. "You started it, jerk!"
"--I can't believe you!" This time, Sakura rushed at Kakashi and, lest he anger her even more than she was by way of dodging, he took the left hook to the face like a man.
"Okay," Kakashi grunted as he wiggled his jaw, "maybe I deserved that one." He'd hoped that Sakura had gotten all her frustrations out with that one punch, but it was apparently too much to ask for.
"Why would you tell everyone that I have a boyfriend?" Sakura snarled, her teeth bared as she proceeded to direct yet another attempt for his face. This time, Kakashi caught her fist in his palm and held fast to it to prevent a third swing. Of course, that feuled Sakura's effort to slug him with her other one, which then called for the catching of her wrist.
"Settle down, Sakura before you hurt yourself," Kakashi murmured in a sigh. "If you'll understand, I never meant for the rumor to go far. It's just, I'm rather fond of my students. I guess I do get protective of you sometimes and I... And when Mini-Gai-- er, Lee asked me about you, it just kind of slipped that you… " Kakashi trailed off. It was a moment before he picked up again. But his voice was less anxious, and slightly more amused sounding. "Sakura, hey, ah… are you… are you biting me?"
There was a long pause.
"Well, um, your hair smells nice."
"…h'I ha' chu'!"
"Feel free to unlatch yourself from my shoulder at any moment," Kakashi said as he peered around.
"…h'I ha' chu'," was muffled reply again.
"Yeah," Kakashi nodded once, "I know you hate me."
Ten minutes passed.
Kakashi waited. And Sakura continued to leech to him like a vampire.
Finally, come the point where Kakashi was sure her teeth marks would be there for weeks to come, Sakura eased her teeth from his shoulder. "Feel better?" he asked quietly.
"Let go of me," she murmured, her face tilted away from him. "I'm leaving!" Kakashi nodded and released her accordingly, putting his hands into his pockets.
"What about the mission?" he asked her.
"I could tell you what of the mission and I could tell you where you can shove it," was all he got from her before she stormed off.
Five and a half hours later, as Sakura sprawled across her sofa and occupied herself with her magazine, 'Kunai Girl', there was a knock at the door. Thinking it was Ino, home after finally getting some groceries, Sakura abandoned her magazine and scrambled to the door.
That was when she opened the door just in time to see a small brown animal dart around the corner of the apartment hallway and out of site. She blinked. Sakura was about to close the door again when a sheet of white paper caught her eye.
Squatting down, she took the slip of paper into her hands, noting with a grimace that it was in fact a slobbery, chewed up slip of paper. Her mouth fell open.
i'm sure you are too
be over in an hour
or i'll come get you