One hour later, Sakura's having another drink, only this time, she's alone. In her bedroom, with the lights out, and a bottle of harmless apple juice from which she sips occasionally, that is how she spends the remainder of her birthday. Ino has thrown out the last couple of guests an hour before, and with a long hug to Sakura, the blonde has left for home, also.
Why did I have to pick this day to get depressed? Why did I pick this day to realize I've fallen in love with yet another impossible and unreachable guy?
Her spirits couldn't sink lower even if it started to rain. Which wouldn't be a bad thing at all, since it has been a dry spring so far, and the land needs the water. So maybe if it rains, that'll be one good thing Sakura's mood has done for the village. But she can't control the weather, just like she can't control her heart.
"Okay. Let's rethink about this," she mutters to herself. "Do I really want to continue in love with Kakashi-sensei?" A pause. "I wonder if I should call him Kakashi. It's been, what, eight years since he stopped being my sensei?"
That isn't entirely true. They've continued to train together, and Kakashi's taught her enough skills and jutsus for her to still consider him a teacher. A mentor. A good friend, and confidant.
------ When she's finished talking, she thanks him, pausing in front of his bed. Should she hug him? Shouldn't she? She wants to hug him, to show her appreciation for all he's listened, so she does. It's quick, and she'll barely remember it, years from now. She doesn't even have the time to memorize his smells, or touch. It's near morning when she leaves, time to go to bed for the good little girls. He smiles at her back when she closes the door. Half a year later, he starts to train her. She wants to be stronger, and he can make her stronger. It's a promise he's made to himself, to help this girl, and he's kept those three dried out poppies, so he'd never forget it.
A few hours after they return from the mission at the bridge, Sakura buys three poppies from Ino's store, and goes to visit Kakashi at the hospital. She finds him there, alone with all the white, and smiles slightly. It doesn't suit you, she says. The stark white of the room, the smell of the hospital, those are details that go well in Sakura's life. She's a medic-nin, it's most expected of her to be able to deal with it. They're not something that fit Kakashi, because he's the type of men that cannot be associated with hospitals, simply because he's too strong for them. And yet here he is, strapped to a bed—by Tsunade, no doubt, so he can't escape—and looking stressed. Probably suffering Icha Icha withdrawal. They talk. Sakura leaves the poppies on the bed-table, because there is no vase, but it doesn't matter to him. She stays there until the wee hours of morning. And she opens her heart to him, in a strange act that she'll never understand. She tells him about Sasuke, about how she's mad at herself, at her heart. Because she couldn't save him, bring him back, or keep him home with her love. And because her love has faded, disappeared like the sun behind grey clouds. She tells him she wants to be stronger, and for her heart to be stronger. He listens, and nods, and says nothing. This is Sakura's revelation moment, and he won't ruin it.
When she's finished talking, she thanks him, pausing in front of his bed. Should she hug him? Shouldn't she? She wants to hug him, to show her appreciation for all he's listened, so she does. It's quick, and she'll barely remember it, years from now. She doesn't even have the time to memorize his smells, or touch. It's near morning when she leaves, time to go to bed for the good little girls. He smiles at her back when she closes the door.
Half a year later, he starts to train her. She wants to be stronger, and he can make her stronger. It's a promise he's made to himself, to help this girl, and he's kept those three dried out poppies, so he'd never forget it.
She's on the edge of seventeen when she gets over her unrequited crush on Naruto. Kakashi takes her out to dinner, and he pays, which is a miracle. She eats quietly, making him worry if perhaps she's feeling okay. His dormant sense of moral makes him take her home when they're done eating, and that's when she lets go. Cries a bit into Kakashi's chest, wondering if there's something wrong with her. Some sort of gene in her DNA that makes all the boys she loves not love her back when she needs it most. Just a few tears, she says, because after all, she still has Naruto's sibling love, and that is enough. Later on, he notices that Naruto's being distant towards Sakura, and the girl has noticed it, too. Love confessions can change a person, he tells Naruto one day in private, but if you let it get in the way of teamwork, I'll demote you. Which in Kakashi's language means 'stop being an idiot and hurting her like this'. After the Sai disaster, Kakashi tells Sakura that perhaps she should stop going for the social retards and the ones with a dark, hidden, tragic past. She snorts, and says that that would be excluding a 75 of Konoha population, so she's got it tough. A bit afterwards, she tells him she wants to learn how to live. He wants to help her. But missions get in the way, they soon forget about it, and focus on training, and talking, and just being a team. Kakashi is the last member of the team she hasn't fallen in love with, and she refuses to lose him to a failed confession too. When she tells him this, he smiles. Inwardly, he hopes she won't refuse that much.
After the Sai disaster, Kakashi tells Sakura that perhaps she should stop going for the social retards and the ones with a dark, hidden, tragic past. She snorts, and says that that would be excluding a 75 of Konoha population, so she's got it tough. A bit afterwards, she tells him she wants to learn how to live. He wants to help her. But missions get in the way, they soon forget about it, and focus on training, and talking, and just being a team. Kakashi is the last member of the team she hasn't fallen in love with, and she refuses to lose him to a failed confession too. When she tells him this, he smiles. Inwardly, he hopes she won't refuse that much.
"He's just always been there," she tells Ino over an emergency breakfast, the following morning. She looks like someone who's barely slept all night, and feels tired, old, and stupid. Which is basically how she's been feeling since she was sixteen of age.
"Of course he has," Ino answers, looking at her meal of fruit and bread with a distraught expression. "Is this honestly everything you eat in the morning?"
"I can't eat anything at this moment. When I went through my Naruto-phase I couldn't look at ramen without feeling my heart beat harder. With Sai, it was sushi."
"Jeez, girl, you really need to get a life," Ino drawls, rolling her eyes. "I'll make a decent breakfast for us both. You can't let the fact that you're in love affect your alimentation. I mean, you're a medic-nin, for God's sake, woman. You should know it's not good for the body."
"Just because I put on a doctor's coat, doesn't mean I take care of myself. With all the stress we're put through daily, I have a certainty that doctors are the people who least take care of themselves properly. There's no time to exercise, and cook yourself a homemade meal," Sakura droned, biting into an apple. An apple a day, keeps the doctor away. Huh. I wonder if eating apples will keep me away from myself. It's a stupid thought, but she's feeling stupider than ever, so she eats another apple, and another, while Ino cooks some rice.
"You know," Ino says, some time later. "Back on track, of course he's always been there. He was your sensei, after all. Asuma-sensei was there for me, too. He was a good listener, regardless of the chain-smoking, and the evading-duties act he had put together. But either way, I didn't fall in love with him," she waves her hand dismissively, but Sakura knows that's a lie. She was there the weeks after Asuma's death, holding Ino's head in her lap while the other girl cried for the loss. Maybe Ino hadn't been in love with the man, but she had loved him. "I think you're trying to think you're in love with him, because he's the only one in your team of overprotective numbskulls that you haven't devoted you heart to," the blonde continues. "I think you want to be in love with him, because it's easier to explain the reason you feel that way. He's always there, he's a good friend, you've known him for a lot. Sure, I can understand that. But if you ask me, I honestly think your problem is that you are too in love with the idea of being in love. That's what gets you hurt."
Sakura finishes her third apple, puts on her gloves, and stands up, before answering the woman. "You might be right. Thank you, Ino." She appreciates that the blonde is trying to convince her that she's not in love. It would certainly save her the hurt. But it's just not working. Her heart and her mind have both stroke a deal, finally agreeing on something. With Naruto, only her heart had been in it, while her mind was not. With Sai, her mind wanted to love him, but her heart didn't give it her all. With Sasuke…maybe, long ago, with Sasuke, her mind and her heart had loved him, in agreement. But now she's older, and knows a bit more. Her heart is a bit more broken, and her mind is a bit more wise, and with Kakashi, she's sure, she loves with mind, soul, heart, and everything else. It frightens her, excites her, and terrifies her, the thought that she's capable of feeling so much, for one person. Mostly, it's fear. Because if this one fails—and she knows it will fail, yet her inner-masochists insists—she might just never recover.
"I should go," she says, heading for the door. "Training waits for no-one."
Two weeks, one mission in Water country, and more than enough sleepless nights later, Sakura's about ready to call it quits. She's tried to convince herself that she's not in love with Kakashi, but the more she tries, the more she feels her feeling grow. Whereas two weeks before, it started out like a warm, chimney fire, homey and welcoming, now her sentiments have adapted the form of a bristling volcano. Ready to erupt. Violently. In the next few days.
She needs him. It's not a physical need, so she can't blame it on the lust, the hormones, and the fact that she's incapable of accepting the concept of sex-without-love—which is partially why she's still an unfortunate virgin at twenty. She doesn't need him inside her, or around her. She doesn't yearn for sex with Kakashi, however impressive it could be—oh yes, she's thought about it, any sane woman would think about it. But her feelings aren't something born from uncontrollable lust. Sakura has learned to control her lust just fine, in her short life. There was a year when she thought she was asexual, or at the very least frigid. She needs Kakashi, though, even if it's not a primal, carnal, sexual need. She wants his arms around her. She wants a hug that lasts longer than a few moments, when she's almost dying, or when he is. She wants to breathe in his fragrance, and let him grow on her until it's impossible to spread any more. She needs to have a small, laconic voice in her mind, part of a conscience, that speaks exactly like him. She needs his lack of answers when she tells him about her mishaps with love. She needs the comfort he gives, and the control he can teach her. One could say she needs him to be a friend, and ask why the hell she thinks she's in love with him. But Sakura knows she loves him, knows he's grown on her, knows this is it. Maybe not The One—no need to get her hopes high, they'd only fall faster—but certainly Someone Who Could Be The One. She simple needs him. For everything he is. Sins, weaknesses, flaws.
She feels so possessive and greedy, so desperate of him, that it terrifies her. And soon, it starts to show. Gradually, she loses concentration during their training, to the point of Kakashi managing to injure her simply because he thought she'd block his hit, and she never did. Slowly, whenever he talks to her, whether it's to scold her, or tell her to pick herself up, she wants to grab his tongue and pull it until he talks more, and more, letting her hear his voice. She dreams of him at night. Sometimes, it's such a simple dream of them training, that she thinks it's reality. Sometimes, it's an obscure dream of the sound of their voices, clouded with heat and lust, panting. She doesn't dream of sex with Kakashi much, though, and if she does, she never remembers it all—just details, like the voices, or his clouded gaze. It might be a way of her mind leaving her on the edge, and never gratifying her with release.
In the two weeks after her birthday party, Sakura almost kisses him twice. She doubts he notices her intentions. She also doubts it would end up nicely, if she did kiss him. For some reason, she doesn't want to think about his rejection. She knows, however, deep down, that it will happen. Kakashi will deny her, nicely, because he is nice enough to try and hurt her as less as possible. Her heart will break again, and she'll continue being unkissed, virgin, hopeless, helpless romantic.
A tiny part of her rebels against this thought. That part is enough.
"What were we celebrating again?" Sakura asks, looking at the ceiling through her fingers, spread in front of her eyes.
"Five years of training together," Kakashi answers from a spot near the wall. "Surviving this much."
"And why," she begins, with an irritated tone, "are we celebrating this in jail?"
"I think it gives it a sense of romanticism," he answers, stretching his legs in front of him.
He's lucky there's nothing in their prison cell for her to throw at his head. Stupid mission. Stupid mission, and stupid people, and stupid daimiyo, and stupid sensei. It was supposed to be a simple mission. A rescue mission: recover the daughter of a powerful daimiyo from the hands of a band of thugs. Extra points for each thug they killed. Of course it had been successful, and of course the daughter was brought back to her golden palace. The reason they were in jail for two days—the daimiyo wouldn't be able to keep them there any longer—was one: hormones. Apparently, the daimiyo's daughter was a conceited brat, and apparently, she'd taken a liking to Kakashi during their trip back to her home. With a mentality like 'I can get anything, I'm rich', the girl wasted no time in making obvious, lewd passes at Kakashi—who took them all in stride, with a very practiced ignorance and obliviousness. If it had stopped at that, they might have been fine. But Sakura's jealous side emerged—exploded, more like it—when the spoiled brat touched Kakashi's shoulder with a skimpy laugh, and a ferocious growl escaped her throat. I couldn't have been more obvious even if I shouted 'MINE, BITCH, GET THE FUCK OFF!'.
So now they are stuck in jail for two days, because the daimiyo simply has to do it. To punish them, and also to placate his precious' daughter's cries of 'That horrible bulldozer woman, how dare she growl at me?'.
"You should've just told her you weren't interested, instead of letting her fawn over you," she grouses.
"You should've just tried not to growl, Sakura-chan. Still so protective of your team-mates?" he reasons, amused.
"I didn't growl! I just…I had something stuck in my throat, I swear!"
"At the same time she touched me so flimsily?"
"It was a bug. A huge bug."
"Aa, of course. Those evil bugs." In retrospect, his appreciative nod actually looks rather more like a condescending nod. It makes Sakura want to scratch his face. She's bad enough, in love and need with the man, without needing to have him tease her all the time. Giving her hopes like that, is almost cruel.
"Some might say you're jealous," he says, half an hour later. It's almost as if he wants her to be angry, and irritated. More than she already is, at least.
"Of that brat? Hell no! I don't care if she lives in a golden palace filled with all the riches in the world, it still doesn't give her the right to think that all men are objects that belong to her. It's just—I just…really don't like those type of people," she answers, lamely.
"Don't worry, I only have eyes for you," he says, and her heart twists in a knot, does a victory dance, explodes and implodes, all in one minute.
"I'm not in the mood for jokes now," she answers, though, blushing at his words, nonetheless. She's in the mood for his jokes, but she's not in the mood for him realizing her feelings. Kakashi is not dumb. Occasionally.
"Who said I was joking?" he asks, his voice but a murmur that she's able to hear thanks to the fact that he's sitting on the futon, next to her. His eye is watching her face, avid for any sort of reaction, crinkling in a smile when her reaction turns out to be a violent blush.
"You always joke. Life of the party, that's you," she says, using her sarcasm as her only weapon against him. If she doesn't play her cards right, she might just end up confessing to him. In a prison cell. Which is not how she wants it to happen.
He brings himself down until his masked nose touches her, defiantly, as if he's pulling all her strings and pushing all her buttons, just because he can. His eye is quirked up in a smile, and for a moment, Sakura focuses on it, the lack of wrinkles around his eyes. He is only thirty-five years old, an old age for the usual shinobi, but Kakashi's not usual, which shows in his eye: where other ninjas his age already show wrinkles and tiredness, he still has the same aspect he did five years before. "Sakura," he says, breaking her out of her thoughts, forcing her to concentrate on him, because his words are always important. Everything Kakashi says is important. Even when it sounds like jibberish. And today, he says three words. "I wasn't joking."
Sakura blinks once. Afterwards, she gives the most eloquent answer she has ever given. Ever. "Bwuhuh?" When he continues to watch her, his expression undeterminable, his gaze scrutinising, Sakura does the only think she can. She starts looking around the cell.
"What are you doing?" he asks, patiently.
"Looking for a hidden camera, because I doubt you meant what you said was serious." It's stupid, but then again, she's a very stupid girl at the moment.
He uses one hand to grip her chin and hold it in place, and once he's got her attention, he dips low, until his masked mouth lays just above hers, not touching. "Should I prove it to you?" he asks, and she can't find an answer to that. Not because she doesn't know what to answer, but because her lips are instantly covered by his. It's just a brush of his lips against her, and it's not even skin on skin. Yet somehow it undoes her in ways that she can't explain. If she were a puppet, made from cloth and sewn with care, kissing Kakashi could be compared to someone pulling a string, decomposing the puppet, leaving her skinless, without a body.
She pulls away before she can let the volcano erupt in her soul. She doesn't want to get hurt. "Please don't joke with things like these, Kakashi. I can't deal with another heartbreak. And trust me, this would be a big one, because I'm afraid I've done what I promised you I wouldn't do, and I fell in l—"
"I know," he answers, thumb grazing over her bottom lip. "My poor little Sakura-chan," he murmurs, eye sliding over her face, amused and intense at the same time. "You keep on falling in love with the worst of men. A tragic victim of unrequited love." He kisses her again, another playful brush of lips against mask. "But she never thinks that maybe, one unrequited love runs both ways."
"What?" she asks, bedazzled, confused. At his words, and at his touches.
"You're a smart girl, Sakura," he says, pulling away slightly to allow himself to hook one finger under the edge of his mask. "I'm sure you'll figure out what I mean soon. But until then, I plan to kiss you again," he murmurs.
Sakura only has time for her mouth to for the shape of an O, before he drags his mask down his face, and crashes his mouth against her.
This. Is how kissing is done. This is the reason she's waited twenty-one miserable years to get her first kiss. His lips are full, his mouth is warm and demanding, and she feels engulfed by it. Passion. He's all about passion. His lips mould around hers, kissing her slowly, quick kisses against her lips until she wakes up from her stupor and realises that the man she loves is kissing her and finally realises that she should definitely kiss him back. Then when she's stopped being an unresponsive puppet, when she starts to move her lips against him, once her eyes are closed in pleasure, that's when it feels right. She lets out a satisfied sigh against his lips.
It acts like a trigger, because not one moment later, he makes some sort of soft, strangled noise, and his tongue is licking along the seams of her lips. She parts her lips, inviting him in, demanding him in, and his tongue probes her lips before delving into her mouth, sliding over her tongue, under it, until she gets the point and moves her tongue around his. It continues, like a dance, not a battle for power, but a perfectly synchronised dance, a struggle to express feeling through actions. And she gets the message. Oh, does she ever get the message.
He pulls away after giving her bottom lip a playful tug, a bit breathless. Sakura, on the other hand, is a lot breathless.
"Oh," she says, very redundantly.
"Mm," he answers, and just for kicks, sneaks another short kiss. "Convinced?"
"Oh. Oh yes. Yes, very convinced," she tells him, her eyes a bit too wide as she nods to prove her point.
"Then why the baffled look?" he questions, his nose brushing against hers.
"What, you mean aside from the fact that this is the first time you show me your face willingly?" The first time she'd seen his face, actually, was three years before, after a party at which Sakura had ended quite drunk. She'd tripped, with the grace and talent only she possessed, and in the process, ended up pulling Kakashi's mask down. Back then, she hadn't really gotten the time to acknowledge just how handsome the man was. But at this moment, it isn't the sight of his entire face that has her heart beating fast. "I'm just…not used to the feelings being reciprocated. Ever."
He chuckles darkly, white teeth showing from beneath full lips. "I told you, you've been looking in the wrong places."
"Well," she started, calmly. "If you felt the same, why haven't you ever said anything, before?"
"I wanted to let you make your own mistakes and learn from them."
Ever her Kakashi-sensei. She rolls her eyes. "Do you take some sort of obscene pleasure in seeing me struggle?"
The look in his eye is a combination of lust, affection, amusement and naughtiness. "Well," he purrs against her lips, smiling slightly. "I didn't before, but now I have a very nice mental image on you struggling that I really enjoy."
Oh, yeah. He couldn't have been any clearer with that even if he wore a sign saying 'I want sex'.
The thing with losing one's virginity in a prison cell is that anyone can hear you. And apparently, that's something Kakashi is very against. He finds it very hard to stop himself from kissing her, or stop his hands from sneaking under her shirt—but then Sakura moans somewhat loudly, and he slowly brings himself to a stop. He knows that she's a virgin, so he doesn't want to hurt her by taking her in a dirty prison cell—however tempting it is—and plus, when he takes her, he'll want to hear her, drink her moans—and maybe tie her up to his bed for a few days, too—or so he tells her.
"How did the mission go?" Ino asks her, a day later when Sakura arrives to Konoha—tired, and constantly horny.
"Great," Sakura answers, continuing on her path to Tsunade's tower. She has reports to hand in. And a very delicious ex-sensei waiting for her home. Tied to her bed. Who ends up seeing who struggling, Kakashi?
"You look different. Did something good happen?" Ino says.
"I feel great."
Ino stops in her steps, pointing a finger at Sakura's face. "You! You had sex!"
Sakura laughs like Ino has never heard her laugh before—happy, and complete, and with a bit of naughtiness. "Not yet," she answers, "But I'm only about twenty minutes away from it."
Ino lets out a squeal, jumping Sakura and pulling her into a hug. "So what happened? Did you find another guy? Did you finally admit to yourself that Kakashi wouldn't be a good choice, and finally got over your unrequited love curse?"
"Mm, no, Ino," Sakura answers, tapping the woman's nose with a grin. "I learned that there was a kink in the system."
"I learned that sometimes," Sakura whispers to their ears only, "Unrequited love can turn out to run both ways. And you know what that means?"
"That you're…not making any sense?"
Sakura grins and shakes her head. "It means that finally, finally I've fallen in love with someone who loves me back."
Someone who definitely loves her back, from the many times he's told her already. The many times she's told him the same. It's like being liberated from a horrid curse that impeded her to be herself, to be free, to live. Because, even though many ninjas had tried to live without love, Sakura's found out the living with love? Is better.
"And…how does it feel?" Ino asks after she's gotten over her shock and joy. A dangerous mix.
"It feels…" Sakura looks at Ino, then lets her eyes trail to the clear skies. No storm ahead to stop us. "It feels like I'm finally complete."
And finally, after all the hurt, the heartbreak, and the loneliness, Sakura learns what she always really wanted. To live.