Sizheng: whoohoo… at last! This has been an idea jiggling madly between my ears for the last little while. I haven't used this writing style before, so it's more cause for nervousness. All aside, this story and chapter is dedicated to Novocain. Her frenzied encouragement was much appreciated throughout all this.
Many thanks also (as usual) for my beloved wife Checkerbloom, and my new beta, BeautifulSilverSilence, whose gentle direction and advice smoothed over a few potentially rough spots.
A Note about the Setting: This story is set after the chūnin exams but before Sasuke leaves Konoha. Maybe a couple of weeks after the epic fail that was Team Seven's self-imposed mission to see under Kakashi's mask (anime episode 101).
That Which One Hears
A Naruto Fanstory by Zhang Sizheng
Part One—In Which Sakura Eats her Foot
Gossip travelled quickly in Konohagakure no Sato, it being a shinobi village and all. It didn't mean its inhabitants were nosy—no, never—but because it was a shinobi village, it was a generally assumed and accepted fact that if someone was careless or foolish enough to let slip some juicy morsel of information, they had better be prepared for it to come under public scrutiny. Shortly put—if they screwed up, they deserved it.
Of course, some chose to exercise restraint and respect the privacy of others by keeping their mouths shut. But chances were that if the information was interesting, humiliating and didn't do long-term damage to the hapless victim's psyche, it would be all over Konoha by nightfall—assuming it took place at, say, twilight.
However, there were a select few shinobi whose secrets remained secrets. Sometimes, it was because the rest of the village had very short memories. Barring blood feuds and the run-of-the-mill, deep-seated hatred, it was simply better not to hold onto blackmail for more than one generation. In addition to being unfashionable (since by using material from ten to twenty years ago, it meant they were a shoddy ninja and never got any new dirt on the poor bastard in question), the lives of shinobi were short and flaring. It just didn't do for someone to get caught up in the pasts of other people when their own were often so fucked up.
And sometimes, the shinobi who kept the secrets were just damn good at what they did. More often than not, it wasn't because they didn't let the secret slip: it was usually because people didn't want to cross them. Who would want to anger someone who could kill eight higher-level shinobi armed only with a broken tooth torn from the skull of the ninth?
So people tended not to meddle in Hatake Kakashi's business unless their curiosities were piqued enough to risk death via various, variable pointy objects. Or unless they were criminally ignorant. Or unless they were simply, desperately stupid. Or unless they were all three, being genin from his team with tragically flawed outsider information on the man's admittedly eccentric habits.
Like Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke, for instance.
Ino looked up, and did a double-take. Kakashi-sensei was passing her family's flower shop, shoulders relaxed, stride even and his nose buried, as usual, in that scandalously bright novel of his. It was all very casual. In fact, she wouldn't have given the occurrence a second thought if it hadn't been the fourth time he'd walked by that morning.
As both a kunoichi-in-training and female teenager, Ino's instincts were aroused.
She kept a wary eye out as she tended the flowers, and when he meandered back across the shop's line of sight forty-eight minutes later, she hailed him.
"Hatake-sama!" she called, because even if Sakura called him lazy and perverted and chronically tardy and a pathological liar besides, he was still the Copy Ninja of Konohagakure, made her parents sweat whenever Sakura mentioned him and probably knew how to disembowel a man with a broken toothpick. So some respect wouldn't be amiss, really. "Hatake-sama, would you care to buy some flowers for a sweetheart?"
He looked up, and she was disappointed and a little relieved to see him completely unfazed by her teasing; a flush rose in her cheek as he crinkled his visible eye at her before pocketing his book and wandering calmly in. "Maybe," he said, so noncommittally that the saleswoman in Ino quailed at his tone. She found herself watching the way the drab morning reflected off similarly-hued hairs, and the way her flowers looked brighter when framing his pale features—what was visible of them, anyway. "Do you have anything for… reconciliation, perhaps?"
Ino stared. Then made plans in her head to meet up and have some serious girl talk with Sakura later that night, because she owed forehead girl for the Asuma-Kurenai sighting two weeks ago. "Ah… reconciliation?" 'He didn't deny that he has a sweetheart!' "What, if you don't mind my asking, is the nature of your… offence?" 'Did he call her fat? Cheat on her? Kill her brother-in-law from another village on a mission?'
The visible part of his face looked pensive. "Hmmm. I don't know, really. How do you mean?"
Ino came close to losing the default reverence his fame-name invoked. She could see where Pinky was coming from when she ranted about her deliberately-obtuse jōnin-sensei. "Well… did you maybe call her fat? Or tell her you didn't like her new yukata? Or that you're really, really sorry, but have met this other girl?" 'Oops.' She hadn't meant for the last one to come out.
Kakashi-sensei's eye arched in what she was sure was amusement. "Well, I'm not sure how I offended her, but the last time I saw her, she threw a flower pot at me and shouted that I was just like my useless old man. And to go drown myself in a river, although it wasn't quite that polite."
'…Sakura will love this,' Ino thought. She opened her mouth to make one of those default, sympathetic noises, but what came out was "How large was the pot?" Kakashi-sensei obligingly gestured with his hands, and Ino winced. "That's large."
"I thought so, too," Kakashi-sensei replied. "And it still had the bonsai in it."
Ino stifled a grin. Forehead girl's teacher was funny. "Well, you're going to want to know what sort of reconciliation you want. Are you simply apologising? You probably want her to know you love her, right? And perhaps praise her beauty a little…?"
He looked almost thoughtful for a few moments before shrugging. "She doesn't have any beauty worth speaking of, not really, and flattery isn't going to help me in this situation," he said bluntly. "I'm not apologising because there's nothing to apologise for. And I don't love her."
Poleaxed, Ino watched him as he drifted about the store, fingering petals and leaves and stems with careful delicacy. She was just about to tell him that he still hadn't told her about the sort of message he wanted to convey—though, by the sounds of it, it wasn't a nice one—when he stopped before an attractive spray of harebells.
"Actually, I think I know what I'd like, but you'll have to correct me because I'm a little rusty," he said cheerfully. "White rhododendrons, blue asphodel, white satin-flower, blue phlox, white armerias, blue harebells, blue pine and love-in-a-mist, with a white ribbon tied to the…" he paused. "Left-tied ribbons convey that the meanings bound therein refer to the giver, and right-tied ones mean they describe the receiver, correct?"
Ino snapped her jaws shut with a click before murmuring a soft "that's correct."
"Tied to the left, then."
She shook herself, her mind still tumbling over the flowers and their meanings and the fact that Konohagakure no Kopi Ninja knew his floriography better than his female student did. "We don't have pine or asphodel, but—"
"That's quite all right." That awful novel was in his hand again, and instead of Kakashi-sensei's masked face, she found herself staring at a bold image of a man ardently chasing a woman who clearly did not desire to be caught. "But I'd like the others. The ones you don't have are no real loss."
Ino followed his instructions dazedly.
Fifteen minutes later, she watched the smoke dissipate from Kakashi-sensei's translocation jutsu and leaned against the counter with a disbelieving toss of her head. "That is one fucked up bouquet," she muttered. 'I certainly wouldn't want to receive something telling me that my boyfriend was a dangerous fucker, but was sympathetic to me because he pitied my situation. And that he had regrets that would follow me to my grave. Oh, and that he wanted a smile from me.' He'd left the receipt behind. She threw it away. 'If I were her, I'd throw a larger pot this time.'
She glanced up at the sky and judged it to be roughly midday, an assumption that proved correct when her father called her up for lunch.
"I'm going to Sakura's house—they'll feed me there!" she called in reply, removing her apron and flinging it over the counter as her mother clattered down the stairs, presumably to keep an eye on the till and to cover Ino's break.
"Was that Kakashi-san I just saw leaving, dear?" Ino was almost out the door when her mother asked the question, so she just shouted something about Kakashi-sensei and infidelity and not apologising and being a dangerous sonuvabitch who wanted a smile from his jilted sweetheart.
And, needless to say, by evening, every shinobi in the village knew Hatake Kakashi was a cheating bastard who not only scared his poor lover to pieces but pretended sympathy and humility in order to get a smile from her. As if flowers would help the problem!
Safely ensconced within the kunai- and senbon-chipped walls of his own little apartment, Kakashi allowed himself to go limp with relief.
The first stage of Mission: Make Amends with Angry Mother was over, done with and, most importantly, a success.
He'd walked by the Yamanaka flower store three times before remembering that for his plan to work, he had to be detectable to the senses of a first-year genin. So he dropped the stealth and tried to release as much tension as possible before wandering by again, each time "clattering" by more "loudly" so as to draw the attention of the girl in the shop.
Really, it was just lucky that the Yamanaka flower shop was located in an almost strictly civilian area, and he'd made a point to choose a day when that nosy old bat of an ex-kunoichi across the street was out for her weekly soak at the onsen. While the idea of having people know he was buying flowers didn't much faze him, the idea of any of his jōnin associates watching him do so by using such an obvious ploy caused him to break out into cold sweat.
…which made no sense, admittedly, but Kakashi couldn't be bothered to care about petty details like that.
Ideally, he would have just wandered right in and requested a bouquet for reconciliation. However, the idea of simply walking in so baldly… and asking for flowers…
That and he just liked complicating the mundane things.
Right now, however, he had the bouquet in his hand two days earlier than expected and was unsure of exactly what to do with himself. There was always Mission: Make Amends with Angry Mother—Part the Second, but he'd already planned himself into circles regarding that. No, it was better to wing it from hereon out.
Kakashi languidly washed out his milk jug, plunked the flowers in, and, after checking that each petal was still pristine, shoved his hands in his pockets.
It was unthinkable to show up two days beforehand. He had a routine. So what to do in the meantime? What to do, what to do… his single eye landed on the photographic, disgruntled looking images of his cute students. Ah.
He would normally never subject them to training on a day off (because their day off was his day off, and also because he was such a nice person), but it wasn't as if being a shinobi was all about picking daisies and smelling the buttercups, anyhow. They were going to have to deal with summons of untimely (and unwanted) natures soon enough. Why not begin now?
But what really decided him was the thought of their sweet little faces twisting in the usual, adorably impotent fury at his appearance, and within a heartbeat, he was out the window and bounding gleefully east towards Naruto's apartment.
"Will you stop interrupting me for one damn second?"
"Thank you," Sakura breathed. "Now, let me get this all straight in my head." She inhaled deeply through her nose and expelled it forcibly through her teeth. "Kakashi-sensei was doing… something in the civilian district and passed your shop a couple of times. You called out to him, insinuated he had a girlfriend, then he stopped, walked up to you and put his book away…" Here, she paused as if expecting Ino to break into a chorus of awed disbelief. Being that Ino had been there for the entirety of the events Sakura was reciting so brokenly back to her, she yawned and did a very good job of looking thoroughly unimpressed.
Sakura huffed, continuing her redundant play-by-play. "Then he insinuated he had a lover and bought a bouquet. Disregarding the grossness factor of Kakashi-sensei getting cosy with anyone… he bought flowers that… that said that stuff." she gestured helplessly. "I don't believe him. How could he?"
Ino shrugged. "Well, he's a guy. Even if he knew about the fact they had meanings, he could have thought the harebells looked nice with the phlox. I wouldn't put it past any man to have just grabbed the first pretty flowers he saw. I mean, Asuma-sensei—"
"No!" Sakura shouted, and Ino's eyes widened at the frenetic energy simply pouring off her best friend. You yourself said he knew exactly what he was doing, since he knows more about floriography than I do!"
"Well, seeing as what rubbish you were at it when we were in the Academy…" Ino teased.
Sakura ignored her. "Don't you see? He's testing you! Come to think of it… did he actually come out and say he had a girlfriend?"
Amused in spite of herself, Ino closed her eyes, waiting for the memory to surface. "I don't know," she said finally, a little baffled. "I can't remember. I think so. He did say he wanted flowers."
"But he didn't say they were for a sweetheart, did he?" Sakura moaned. "He just wanted flowers!"
"I—" Any defence Ino had in mind splintered, then crumbled beneath Sakura's breathless discourse.
"You," Sakura all but spat, "have no idea of the possible mayhem you could have brought on your own head by poking fun at him—"
Ino couldn't help it. She snorted. "Forehead girl, you call him all manner of awful things behind his back as well as to his face, from what I've seen and heard."
Sakura waved it away. "That's different. I'm on his team. What's the worst he could do? Train us?" She laughed, perhaps a little hysterically. "We wish. Train us into the dirt? As if, with how lazy he is…"
Ino rolled her eyes. She recognised the beginning of this particular tirade. "I don't—"
"Heaven forbid he actually come out and say something," Sakura hissed. She sounded peculiarly like an affronted cat that had been fostered with boiling kettles from birth. "We need to earn his tutelage! He hides lessons within metaphors, and metaphors within puzzles, and puzzles within the half-baked cow pie someone left on Iruka-sensei's window-sill!" Her throat worked visibly, and Ino half-feared her friend would explode from indignation.
"I think you're just being paranoid," Ino said for what felt like the umpteenth time since she'd arrived. "Think rationally about this. Why would Hatake-sama—"
"Don't call him that!"
"—bother to go to such trouble to teach anyone a lesson in such a roundabout way? You keep complaining about how he's so lazy, so what makes you think that he'd take the time to come up with something like this and actually go through with it?"
"How do I know how he works?" Sakura sighed, finally sitting by her friend and taking up her cup of tea, which was half-empty and cooling rapidly. She folded her fingers about the cup, perhaps to take comfort in the residual warmth, and Ino noted with relief that Sakura's hackles were going down. Perhaps the jasmine tea scent was calming her. "I just… he's just so…!"
Ino rolled her eyes again and began to play with the frayed hem of one of her arm warmers. Shikamaru so owed her a new one. She suddenly realised that this was probably the longest conversation she and Sakura had shared without mentioning Sasuke-kun for a good… three years, perhaps.
Ino snorted. 'Or not.'
"—deserves to be trained, and maybe I wasn't doing as well as I should've, but I'm actually trying hard now, even though Dead Last Naruto is leaving me in the dust…"
Ino looked up at that, opening her mouth in inquiry, and froze, seeing a flash of orange by the windowsill. "Ah… Sakura?"
"And while Sasuke-kun deserves all the attention he's getting, it would be nice if Kakashi-sensei actually took some time out of his schedule and his nose out of that novel of his to remember there are two other members in his training cell…"
"Sakura…" It was Naruto, and, being that his mouth was currently seized in what looked to be an iron grip, he was flailing wildly in warning, for all the good it'd done them.
"And it's probably a good thing he never passed a team before us, since I'm sure he would have traumatised them beyond all comprehension," her friend continued, oblivious to Ino's growing horror. "Then again, if he were actually worth two bits as a teacher—"
"Sa-kura." That voice, so cheerful and chipper and not even directed at Ino, but still, if self-evisceration were an option, she would so choose it right there and then…
"Se-se-sensei?" And if Sakura's horrified expression was anything to go by, the other girl agreed whole-heartedly with her.
"So wonderful that my cute students think even more about me than I do of them," Kakashi-sensei drawled languidly from his position just outside the half open window. Through her paralysis, Ino wondered how he managed to seem such a menace when hanging upside-down, gagging a struggling Naruto with one hand, restraining him with the other and all but beaming behind that mask of his. "Though, it seems I chose a wonderful day to train you all into the dirt as you so wished."
"Considering your rapt admiration of my teaching skills," he continued drily, apparently unfazed by Naruto's squirming and kicking, "I think I'm obliged to give you what appears to be a much-wanted—not to mention needed—demonstration of them."
Ino began to sidle in the direction of the door, freezing again when Kakashi-sensei's eyes flicked in her direction. He gave her an almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgement before returning his attention to her cowering friend, whose face was now pinker than her hair.
"Well?" Kakashi-sensei asked. "I see you're already in your usual training clothes—excellent." Never mind that Sakura-chan wore a variation of the same red dress daily. "Clearly, you've been expecting me and are every bit as desperate to learn as you so professed."
Sakura squeaked again.
Shinobi survival instincts kicking in, Ino resumed her slow inching towards the nearest exit.
"It's so nice to be appreciated by one's students," Kakashi-sensei mused as Naruto resumed his frantic attempts at freedom. It appeared he was using his teeth, too, but Kakashi-sensei simply adjusted his grip on the blond; Naruto's eyes widened in what could have been pain before he slumped in defeat. "Why, Naruto-kun here was so glad to see me earlier, he screamed with joy."
What could be seen of Naruto's face around Kakashi-sensei's hand was crimson with humiliation. Ino noted with detached interest that Sakura's features had hit on a more purplish spectrum. Still, it was a rare person who could shove their leg knee-deep down their throat without asphyxiating, so perhaps the bluer hue of Sakura's face wasn't that big of a surprise after all.
Oddly enough, Ino's friend wasn't making much of an effort to escape. When Kakashi-sensei pulled his long body through the window and into the room, Sakura's legs appeared to give out.
Ino winced. 'Well, damn… she's on her own now.'
The door now within arms' reach, she tiptoed the last few steps to freedom before risking a glance back into Sakura's bedroom. Even as he withdrew a roll of trap-wire and brandished it gaily under Sakura's nose, Kakashi-sensei's head swivelled purposefully in Ino's direction.
Ino bolted, leaving her year-mates to their grim fates. As she fled down the staircase and past her friend's bewildered parents, she couldn't help noting the perverse humour in a scenario involving Kakashi-sensei invading his student's home and tying her up in her own bedroom.
She snorted, slowing her sprint as she reached the relative sanctuary of her family's flower boutique.
'If there is anything that could possibly make the situation with that girlfriend of his worse, then that would be it.'
To be continued…