Disclaimer: nope, not mine.

Rating: T.

Summary: Sakura achieves enlightenment and makes a major philosophical breakthrough, Ino's glamorous façade cracks, and Kakashi receives a most curious gift.

Characters: Sakura, Kakashi, Ino. Others are mentioned.

Pairings: KakashiSakura

Where and when: post-war. but otherwise canon.

What: humor/romance/friendship. A next-to-nonexistent angst on the horizon.

Why: since it's holidays, I felt like writing something cheerful. Well, at least I've tried!


The Mystery of the Green Umbrella

by DreamCharmer

--

Bar-hopping with Ino, Sakura found herself thinking, was a mixture of enjoyment and annoyance. Ino seemed to possess a detailed knowledge of every nook and corner in Konoha, and could tell anyone who was willing to listen, where the best fish could be found, where salads were to die for and, above all, where the largest population of cocktails was located. The bad thing was that, having planned the itinerary out beforehand and feeling vastly superior to Sakura in everything that concerned cuisine, she blatantly disregarded all objections.

They had started on their quest early in the afternoon and had already been to a small restaurant which specialized in all sorts of foreign food (the owner was a retired shinobi from the Grass country), and to a tea house Sakura had never heard of before. Currently, they were sitting in Ino's secret cocktail paradise, a rather secluded place in a narrow alleyway off the central street, its entrance craftily concealed behind a very big, ugly bush. In Sakura's opinion, the only way anyone could find it was by already knowing it was there. However, the room was so packed, they barely managed to grab a table. Apparently, a lot of people were in on the secret. Or there might be a sect of cocktail-worshippers in Konoha and the bar served as their meeting place.

Sakura giggled as the image of Ino, dressed in a long billowing robe, making a speech to a selected number of chosen ones, formed in her mind. Normally, such a thing would never occur to her, but there was quite a lot of alcohol in her system, and it made her slightly giddy. Still, she wasn't ashamed. It had been a long year, and not a nice one either. But now that the war was over, and things were steadily getting back to normal, Sakura felt they all deserved to relax a little or maybe even do something silly. Drinking cocktails fell into the category of inoffensive silliness just fine. There were two empty glasses on the table, and the considerate waiter had just brought them two more, filled to the rim with luminescent liquid. Judging by its color there was no way it was good for their health. Sakura's had a green umbrella sticking out with an almost painful cheerfulness.

Technically, the two of them were on a girls' night out to celebrate the end of the war and talk about girl things — a nearly imposible feat when one's surrounded by males from dawn till dusk. For Sakura, it had an additional merit of distracting her from one particular subject that had been plaguing her mind for the past three months, though.

''Naruto wanted to come too,'' she said, remembering suddenly and grinning.

Ino choked on a strawberry. ''Whatever for?''

''He said he wanted to know what girls talked about when boys were not around.''

''And he thought we'd discuss it in front of him?'' Ino raised an eyebrow, looking fascinated.

''Oh, come on, Pig, you know what Naruto's like. I'm not sure he was thinking at all when he suggested it. Not with his brain, anyway,'' Sakura waved a hand in the air, indicating that the inner workings of Naruto's mind were as much of a mystery to her, as they were to Ino. ''And actually, I doubt that he was interested in us, because he changed his mind as soon as I mentioned we were not going to Ichiraku.''

The other kunoichi snorted. ''I bet he did. Choosing ramen over a girlfriend.'' She frowned and added accusingly, ''Typical!''

Upon hearing this, Sakura felt slightly lost. Were they still talking about her? She could bet her entire life's savings on the fact that she had never been Naruto's girlfriend. A teammate, a friend, an almost-a-family-member, yes, definitely. But never anything else. That could only mean that either Ino's brains had already been addled by alcohol (unlikely), or...

She leaned over the table, pushing aside the bowl containing the sad remnants of strawberries, and said in a conspiratorial tone, ''So, who's been making you compete with ramen for his attention? Is it Naruto's mysterious brother? I knew he was hiding something...''

Ino rolled her eyes with an air of extreme exasperation. ''Very funny, Forehead, but it's nothing of the sort. And forget the ramen; it was just a general observation.''

''No, it wasn't. Not entirely. And why are you so bashful about it, all of a sudden? It's what we're here for in the first place, to talk about these things.''

''Well, if you really must know, I was just thinking about Chouji,'' sighed Ino. ''You know how it is with teammates; you spend so much time around each other that you wind up picking up their habits, and catch phrases, and stuff like this. And then comes a day when you can't even tell where they end and you begin; and you start doing and thinking things you've never expected yourself to do and think, you know? Cause they rub off on you! Like when my father asked me to go to the grocery store and I said it was too troublesome.''

Sakura could see the point of Ino's rant. Sharing such a link of friendship was akin to constantly having someone watching over her shoulder - a bit frustrating sometimes, but not oppressive. It was as if she could never truly be alone, even when she was alone physically; because her friends would always remember about her. Although she hoped like hell she would never pick up some of Naruto's habits, especially those that involved consuming ramen in industrial proportions and leaving underwear strewn across the entire apartment. If that happened, she would probably never marry.

''Imagine me, stuffing my face with chips and barbecue at any hour. I mean, it's all very well for Chouji, but my career would be so ruined,'' Ino went on sourly, and added in a wistful tone, ''Sometimes I wish there were more Uchihas left. At least they had finesse.''

Sakura coughed.

''From what Tsunade told me, they weren't exactly an amiable bunch, Pig.''

''True, but I'm sure I'd be able to do something about it. It's my area of expertise, after all,'' replied Ino in her most nonchalant and dismissive voice, which never failed to make Sakura want to punch her in the face.

''Right, because it got you so far with Sasuke,'' she said snidely.

Ino's pale cheeks flushed pink as she smirked at her all-time love rival.

''Oh? Well, I can't see you getting any further, which is a shame, really, what with all the time you've had.''

''What's that supposed to mean? I didn't have any more time that you did; he left when we were still kids!'' Sakura shot back hotly.

Then she stopped abruptly, partly because it was a subject she preferred not to dwell on, and partly because she really couldn't believe they were discussing this, again. When they specifically had agreed to abstain from anything war-related or simply depressive. And they'd done so well, too, talking about nice innocent things, like work or Ino's recent admirers (an ANBU captain and an errand-boy from the grocery store).

Sakura took a deep steadying breath and stomped hard on her irritation. Hopefully, it wasn't too late to save the evening yet.

''It doesn't matter now,'' she said to the blonde kunoichi opposite her. ''I don't want Sasuke anymore, and I'm pretty sure you don't either.''

Maybe I already know who I want, she added silently, but didn't let it show on her face. She wasn't ready to discuss this with Ino. At least, not yet. And besides, she wanted to stop thinking about it, at least for now.

''Better tell me if Shikamaru copied any bad habits from you two; or was he too lazy to do even that?''

''It seems that I've finally drilled the habit of at least pretending to listen to what I say into him. It probably counts as a good one, though. But, honestly, I don't really care, as long as he doesn't smoke.''

''Smoke?...''

''Yes. But luckily, he dropped it after we'd finished off those two Akatsuki, who...'' Ino's voice trailed off for a moment, but she forced herself to plunge on, ''...who killed Asuma-sensei.''

Oh no. It was the war all over again. Immediately, Sakura experienced an all-consuming desire to find herself at home, lying in bed with a good book, perhaps, or sharpening kunai (always take care of your weapons!). In fact, almost anywhere looked better than this dimly lit room, which suddenly seemed too empty and too quiet, with only a low buzz of conversation in the background. Her senses that had been successfully dulled by alcohol earlier in the evening sharpened again, and she could now discern the slight twitching of Ino's left eye, and the way her lips were drawn into a grim line, making her normally beautiful face appear like a grimace, and the unseeing, glazed look, as if Ino was staring into some other place and time and wasn't liking it one bit.

Hastily averting her eyes, Sakura busied herself with dusting off the sleeves of her shirt. It wasn't that she didn't sympathize with Ino's feelings. On the contrary, she understood them perfectly, and that was the problem. Sakura wanted to say ''but he didn't die in vain, he died like a true shinobi''. Or ''but he's always watching over you''. Or even ''it will be alright'', but the words that had undoubtedly been said thousands of times sounded flat and false even in her own mind; although there was technically nothing wrong with them. The pain of losing someone close to you often tended to be so intense and overwhelming that it might take years for the wound to heal, and words could do little good. Sakura had learned it from her own bitter experience, after all. The only thing to rival it was having to watch your friend break down before your eyes and being unable to help them.

Besides, Sakura understood how hard it was to preserve friendship, and she and Ino already had enough differences to last them a lifetime. There was no need to pour extra oil on the proverbial flames. Rivalry had been part of their relationship since the very beginning, and Sakura did not want to witness her friend's weaknesses and past failures. She was not at all sure that next time they met they would be able to pretend it never happened.

She stared at her empty glass and the cheerful green umbrella stuck in it, giving Ino time to compose herself. She extracted the fragile little thing from the glass and ran a finger over the paper. Finally, she heard the other kunoichi exhale, very slowly and deliberately, and say in a slightly strained, but otherwise normal voice. ''So, what excuse do you have for still being completely and utterly single? Come on, you can't tell me you actually enjoy it, with all those really cool guys out there.''

Sakura gaped at her, her deep concern for Ino's well-being evaporating at once. They were so not heading down that street again. Couldn't she think of anything else to say?

''I don't need an excuse for that, Ino,'' she retorted, scowling. ''I'm doing just fine on my own, and I refuse to settle for a guy I don't even like all that much just because he's popular and has the rest of the Konoha female population drooling on his shoes. I want someone with a personality, for one thing.''

As Ino opened her mouth to reply, Sakura sensed the looming danger of sarcastic references to her childhood crush on Sasuke (although anyone would agree that Sasuke had quite a lot of personality, albeit not a very nice one), which she considered ancient history. She hurried to put Ino off track.

''Besides, if you pick a guy who's already hit on dozens of girls, it's like getting a second-hand merchandise,'' she went on hastily, making a vague gesture with her right hand, which still held the green umbrella. ''I mean, you wouldn't buy a dress if twenty other women had tried it on, and worn it to parties, and done...things in it, before you even showed up, right?''

A crowded sort of silence hung over the table as — probably for the first time in their lives -- Ino regarded her with a look that bordered on pure admiration. If Sakura herself wasn't so puzzled at both her own words and Ino's reaction, she might have chosen to memorize the glorious moment better, if only for the warm, fuzzy feeling it would undoubtedly provide.

''So, what you're trying to say, Forehead,'' Ino began in a slow, thoughtful sort of voice, ''is that we should treat men the same way they treat us?'' The idea seemed to please her, as she looked almost entranced. ''To tell you the truth, I never expected you, of all people, to come up with something as reasonable as that. Because, really, if a woman sleeps around, everyone despises her, but if it is a man, why, he's practically a hero!''

Inwardly, Sakura cringed. She should have known better than to let Ino get started on this particular subject. Sometimes, when her friend felt she didn't recieve enough respect and praise, she liked to blame it on the fact that she was a girl. Privately, Sakura thought that if there was one person who had absolutely no right to feel downtrodden by males, it was the beautiful manipulative Ino. She didn't even have it in her to be downtrodden. She bossed her team about all the time. Not to mention that if the other kunoichi decided to treat men the way they treated her, she'd have to develop a saint-like patience and spend all her money on flowers and boxes of chocolate. And anyway, they had Tsunade for the Hokage, surely that was proof enough that no-one judged them by gender. She'd only said what she had said to prevent Ino from bringing the whole Sasuke disaster up again.

''...and finally put our foot down. Are you even listening to me, Forehead?'' Ino appeared to have emerged from her reverie and was looking straight at Sakura, her eyes no longer misty, but sharp and clear. ''And why are you still clutching this thing?'' she added, nodding at her hand.

Sakura followed her friend's gaze and immediately realized that in all this time, she had not let go of the green umbrella. Great. She must have looked just great, sitting there with a dumbfounded expression on her face, and this paper thingy clutched in her fist. But surprisingly, Ino didn't laugh. Instead, she peered into Sakura's face again and then reached out across the table, overladen with plates, glasses and half-folded napkins, and gently plucked the umbrella out of her hand. She held it up gingerly and smiled.

''Look, it is exactly the color of your eyes.''

And it was. Sakura eyed the little thing curiously, noting its bright vivid color, that was green, but not ordinary green, like grass on the pictures in children's books. Its peculiar shade seemed a bit out of place in the smoked-through room. It looked as if it had been going somewhere else - a nice, sunny beach, perhaps - but got lost and ended up stuck in a cocktail. Much like humans do, she thought wryly, always ending up in the back of beyond.

''Oh, come on, Sakura, don't go spacing out on me. Actually, we'd better be going now; it's getting late, and there's work tomorrow. And take your umbrella with you, why don't you?''

It was good to hear the voice of common sense, even if it was coming from Ino's big mouth.

--

When they exited the bar, Sakura feeling quite content, and Ino checking the watch, it was indeed rather late. The central street was full of warm summer twilight, and lights were popping up, one by one, in the windows of the houses where villagers were going about their evening routine, washing dishes or putting children to sleep.

Or jumping down each other's throats, she added to herself as she heard the all too familiar sounds of people yelling at the top of their voices. coming from the nearest half-open window. In a way, it was very pacifying.

''Some things never change, do they? said Ino, echoing Sakura's thoughts. Then she stared at her hard, frowning slightly.

''What? I've got something on my face?''

''Only the usual stuff. Listen, why don't you try wearing green?''

Sakura blinked in confusion. Where did that come from?

''If a cocktail umbrella compliments you, surely a dress will,'' Ino stabbed her long-nailed, manicured finger in the direction of Sakura's trophy. ''With any luck, it would make you look more lively. Or get you a boyfriend. Oh, and don't give me that crap about you being your own woman. I'm not an idiot, Forehead, I know you have someone in mind.''

Sakura's mouth hung open. She couldn't have been that obvious! Or maybe not, maybe Ino was just too shrewd and perceptive when it came to these things. And the fact that they had known each other for years probably counted too.

''So what if I do,'' she grumbled reluctantly.

''Good! Can't figure out who the poor guy is, though,'' Ino smirked at her. ''But wearing something that's not pink or red won't hurt you, so my advice is, go for the green. See you tomorrow.''

She waved a hand and floated away.

Sakura remained rooted to the spot for a moment, but then an image of a certain someone flashed through her brain, and her face split into a mischievous grin. Maybe Ino's suggestion would come in handy very soon, after all.

And now it was time to go back home.

It was even darker now, as she walked unhurriedly down the street, and shadows were gliding softly all around her, flickering, and merging, and overlapping. But they were not of the ominous kind, like the ones she had watched for during the war. These were the signs of normality, heralding the night that would be full of peace, not fire.

Sakura suddenly felt incredibly light, almost weightless, ready to push off the ground and soar over the sleepy village, and dark forests, and towering mountains. The icy terror that had descended upon her after Jiraiya's death and until now never left her completely finally loosened its grip. Now, even in her heart of hearts, she knew the war was over. She inhaled deeply, drawing in warm summer air, rich and thick with the fragrance of night flowers, quiet murmur of rustling leaves, and chirping of birds and insects, and listened to the last vestiges of fear leaving her like a wisp of smoke. It felt wonderful.

The shadow on her left stirred and took form of one Hatake Kakashi.

''Yo.''

Now this was unexpected. Kakashi avoided socializing whenever possible, and this was a rather noisy and crowded part of the village. Even at this hour, plenty of people were hanging about, some of them drunk and, therefore, obnoxiously loud.

''Kakashi-sensei? What are you doing here?''

''Oh, I just remembered seeing a bookstore somewhere around here and decided to drop by to check if they have anything new.''

A realization dawned.

''You're out of porn, aren't you?'' said Sakura flatly.

Kakashi's face — or at least its visible part -- tried to feign indignation and failed miserably. ''How very rude of you to automatically assume that everything I read must be porn, Sakura.''

Who was he trying to fool? Given the consistency with which Kakashi devoured the Icha Icha series, he must have reread each book several times by now. Sakura had never managed to bring herself to finish even one of them. It wasn't the porn part that bothered her, but rather the fact that no matter how hard she tried, she could never find the plot. Or even a decent dialogue, now that she came to think of it. The subject of sex was thoroughly explored, though, and served to a supposedly avid reader on a big plate, spiced up with many piquant details and sometimes shyly covered with two or three pages of romantic mooning, no doubt to ignite the interest further. It didn't really surprise her because she knew the author and was familiar with some of his favorite pastimes.

And she couldn't shake off the disturbing idea that if only the book contained more carrots and salad leaves, it might as well have be a novel about rabbits.

What did puzzle her, however, despite being used to it, was Kakashi's endless fascination with Icha Icha. She even wondered if he did it just for show, if it was simply a part of his persona, something to compliment lateness and casual apathy. Or maybe she had just stumbled upon a particularly bad book. Perhaps Jiraiya's writing skills had improved drastically since then, and the rest of the series turned out totally brilliant. She would probably never find out, being too traumatized by her abysmal first taste of Icha Icha.

''I've never seen you with anything other then this,'' her finger pointed at his pocket, out of which peeked the edge of a very old and tattered copy of Icha Icha.

''It doesn't prove a thing,'' Kakashi's normal eye creased lazily, but his right hand hastily stuffed the traitorous volume deeper into the pocket and out of sight. ''I do read other books, I just prefer to do so at home where nothing distracts me. I have plenty of books there.''

''Like what? ANBU Code of Conduct? Make Your Kunai Live Longer Pamphlet?''

''You have no respect for your old sensei, Sakura,'' lamented Kakashi, starting down the street at a slow pace. ''But if you don't trust me, you should come and see for yourself. It will teach you manners.''

''Are you inviting me over?'' she asked incredulously, falling into step next to him. The very thought made her feel excited, and she could swear her heart sang. She had never been to Kakashi's apartment in her life, and it was almost like getting a sneak peek inside his mask (which, sadly, had yet to happen). She wouldn't pass up such a rare opportunity for all the treasures in the world.

''Well, I don't see why not, unless you're already looking for a way to weasel out of the argument...''

Sakura rolled her eyes. ''I never weasel out of anything, Kakashi-sensei. Who do you take me for?''

The night had already fully covered the village with its velvety blanket, and far above them, in the infinite darkness of the summer sky, the stars were bright and somehow bigger than usual. They winked at her in a friendly way of someone very old and wise, who knows and sees everything but would never tell. Sakura counted five familiar constellations and scanned the black vastness for the moon, only to remember a moment later that it had been waning for the last several days. It was the night of the new moon, and that was why the darkness seemed so rich and so profound, and the stars shone like distant lanterns.

On her left, Kakashi said nothing, but somehow, perhaps through that very link she thought of during her conversation with Ino, Sakura knew that he, too, was at peace. She wanted to let him know she felt the same, longed to say something or touch him to convey her thoughts, to make sure he understood and agreed, just in case.

After all, with the life they led, it was never too early to show affection, and he was closer to her than her actual family had been for ages. If Sakura was forced - with a dagger to the throat - to find something good about the war, she would confess that it had helped her to understand what was important and what wasn't; and it had rid her of silly ideas and stereotypes that weren't really hers. It had stripped her of her so-called love for Sasuke.

Surprisingly, one of the first things she'd realized when it happened, was that she liked Kakashi in a way that could hardly be squeezed into the bounds of an approved student-teacher relationship. In fact, she'd strayed so far from this wide, well-trodden path, that she wouldn't be able to see the starting point with a telescope, let alone return there.

They had been in the middle of the war at that time, so she'd decided not to waste any resources on denial and accepted the unbelievable truth at once. Shortly afterwards the pace of the events had quickened considerably and they all had nothing but survival on their minds for quite some time.

But now she was back on square one with her secret infatuation, and the more she dwelled on it, the worse the symptoms became. She often found herself wondering what he was doing, or worrying about him when he was away on a mission that didn't involve her — and it felt weird, because she'd spent her earlier years thinking of Kakashi as of a superior shinobi. It was supposed to be the other way round; he should be worrying about her. She now paid attention to little things about him she had never cared enough to even notice properly before, such as his attire or his hairstyle (and much good it did her, considering both were always the same).

One thought bothered her, though. Sakura was afraid that this...this thing she had for Kakashi might turn into another Sasuke, and she strongly believed that one soppy romance was more than enough. But she also knew she was no longer a kid and could deal with her love life in the way adults should.

While Sakura very much doubted that Kakashi would ever treat her like Sasuke had, she refused to even consider the possibility of being walked over by a man for the second time, no matter how unlikely it seemed. This would never happen to her again.

It also meant Sakura had to go about the whole business differently. Knowing Kakashi, years would pass before he noticed anything, always immersed in a book as he was, so she figured she might as well give him a nudge in the right direction. A gentle, non-violent push. Tonight was as good a moment as any other.

Maybe she could say or give something to Kakashi to make the moment special and set things into motion. But what? She didn't have any gift for him.

Then a crazy idea struck her. She grinned.

--

''What are you smiling about?'' asked Kakashi, who wasn't nearly as oblivious as he liked others to believe.

Sakura stopped and turned to face him fully. The movement brought her to stand unusually close to him, and in a dark, almost deserted street too. As soon as he thought about it, he wished he hadn't. Being so conscious of the surroundings only made him uneasy. He gazed down at her happy face, which sported a rather disturbing look.

Cheeks flushed, eyes gleaming mysteriously, Sakura tilted her head to one side and produced a little green umbrella made of paper.

''Here,'' she said, just a little breathlessly.

''Oh. Is this...?''

''It's for you.'' Sakura thrust the thing into his hand and then closed his fingers over it carefully, surprising him with her touch. ''I want you to have it.''

She wanted him to have it? A cocktail umbrella? She must have acquired it in that bar.

''Oh. Thank you. But why? It's very...cheerful and green, but does it have some special meaning?''

She fell silent for a moment, looking away, and then smiled again. ''You could say that. I think it's a lucky charm.''

Kakashi inspected the umbrella again. It was fashioned out of paper and it was as green as-

He paused, frowning slightly as his subconsciousness prodded him exasperatedly. He blinked.

In fact, it was as green as her eyes. Exactly as green. He'd always thought it was a nice color, partly because it was a very unusual one. He had met people with all sorts of eye colors, ranging from the uninteresting blue or gray, such as he could see in the mirror every morning, to the crimson red of Sharingan. But the strange greenish shade of Sakura's eyes was completely unique to her.

Well, now he could see the point—

''Will you keep it? Because I've been meaning to get you something for your birthday - the one we've all missed because of the war, I mean - and I just couldn't think of anything except for those disgusting books.'' She gave him a pointed look.

''They are not really— ''

''And I was totally out of ideas,'' she went out, ignoring his feeble attempts to protect Icha Icha. ''Because I wanted to give you something unusual; well, something to remind you of me maybe, not just another set of shuriken. I know you have dozens already,'' she wrapped her arms around her as she smiled at him a bit uncertainly.

Kakashi tried frantically to think of something nice to say to her, because he was touched by her concern. She even remembered his birthday when he himself had all but forgotten about it. But he wasn't very good with words even on his best days, so nothing worthy came to mind. Luckily, Sakura wasn't finished speaking yet.

''And today, when we were celebrating, Ino and I...'' she noticed his questioning gaze and explained, ''The end of the war. I know it's been a couple of months since then, but we wanted to make it formal. Like a symbol of a new life, you know?''

He thought he did. Good idea.

''We had a really good time,'' Sakura went on, ''and then they brought me this drink, with the umbrella. And I just couldn't leave it there to be thrown away; it didn't seem right. So I took it. I was going to stick it to the mirror or something like that, so it could cheer me up in the mornings, when I'm grumpy and late for work. But then you turned up, and I thought...'' she grinned sheepishly and shrugged.

Kakashi twirled the umbrella in his fingers, then smiled at her, ''Thank you, Sakura. I'd like to take it. After all, I'm probably much grumpier in the mornings and definitely always late for work. So I need it more than you do.''

''Deal, then, '' she chirped happily. ''And I promise I'll get you a proper present for the next birthday. Maybe even a book.''

She rolled her eyes as she saw him nod approvingly. ''And now I really have to go home and catch some sleep. Tsunade is sure to bite my head off if I'm late tomorrow.''

He watched her stride away, her movements no longer rushed or jerky, like those of a teenage girl, but graceful and fluid, like liquid flame. She almost turned round the corner but apparently remembered something as she spun back on him and grinned devilishly.

''And don't forget to clean up, because I'll definitely be coming over to check out those books!''

And then she was gone.

Kakashi stared at empty space where she had stood a moment before, bewildered and completely out of his depth. He had an inkling he had just participated in more than just a friendly verbal exchange. Every word they'd said suddenly gained a second layer of meaning and grew bigger and bigger, squashing flat all other thoughts as it did.

He knew his former student still had untapped potential and would surprise them all again and again. He wasn't blind; he had noticed how much more mature Sakura had become. No one in their right mind would mistake her for a little girl now (and if someone was mad enough to volunteer such a suggestion, a chakra-enhanced punch would soon put them in their rightful place).

What he would have never guessed was that she might have something in store for him personally.

There, this was the word. What had just transpired between them was personal. It was in no way related to work, didn't have anything to do with the war, and he couldn't see Naruto or Sai bursting into the picture any time soon. It felt...refreshing, for the lack of a better term. For all he tried, Kakashi couldn't remember the last time he'd engaged in anything personal. It must have been ages ago.

He shifted his gaze to the paper umbrella she'd given him; what a measly useless thing it was, in theory, and yet it, too, seemed heavier, as if it had defied physical laws and was now loaded with the promise of things to come. Kakashi decided he could just about make himself believe they would be good things.

Maybe this evening could be the beginning of something beautiful. Why not? Surely, he'd deserved it.

Then a thought wriggled its way up to the surface of his mind.

He'd better borrow The Art Of War from Genma as soon as possible. Damn.