Second Time Around
"All right, all right, let's make a toast," Ino said. She flung her drink to the side and very nearly smacked Shikamaru in the face with it. Sakura watched from the opposite side of the table as he redirected Ino's arm, subtly and carefully, as if not to alert Ino that he was doing it.
"To Naruto," Ino said, "may he be merciful and not rub his promotion in Sasuke's face."
Sasuke, who sat in between Naruto and Sakura, gave Ino a sullen look. Sakura had half the heart to reach out and put a comforting hand on his shoulder, but feared that if she did so, her hand would wither and crumble upon contact. Sasuke was not in a good mood. Sakura wouldn't risk losing a vital body part to make him feel better. On another note, Naruto was completely oblivious to his sulking friend. Being officially promoted to jonin had cut off all blood circulation to his brain, probably. He didn't have a lot of social tact in the first place, so whenever grand events happened in his life, he lost what little amount of tact he had. You really couldn't blame him for something that was rooted in his genetic makeup.
"I'm gonna get the tough missions from now on, you all just watch," Naruto said and Sasuke shrunk further back in his seat.
Shikamaru coughed and got Naruto's attention. "You know, it's normal for new jonin to be given B-ranked missions until they have adjus-"
"Yep, I'm gonna snatch them all."
Shikamaru sighed and stood up from his seat. "I'll go get us a new round."
Ino perked up immediately. "Get me something fruity."
"Yeah," he said, not all that convincingly, and lazed off towards the bar. Ino slid out of her seat and shadowed him up there. Sakura's blonde friend fared best when she could dictate what other people should do. Sakura had quite often used that insult whenever she and Ino got into each other's hair. In return Ino would call her a frigid bitch and Sakura would resort to her fists. It was in the name of fun, so no one got truly hurt.
"There's a good chance Tsunade-shishou will let you try out next year, Sasuke," Sakura spoke across Naruto to Sasuke. Naruto looked askance at Sakura and then at Sasuke, who was pushing his beer back and forth on the table as if it helped him release the frustration he felt.
"Yeah, Sasuke," Naruto said, catching onto Sakura's lead. "I bet you've scored yourself a spot next year with the last test result you got. What was it again?"
"Out of 100, right?"
"Eh, well, that's not exactly bad," Naruto said and sent Sakura a helpless look. She shrugged. She didn't know what to say either. Anything she could have said would have come out wrong.
At seventeen Sasuke had stumbled through the village gates and had promptly fallen into a coma that had lasted four months. Nobody had felt the need to ask what had happened and nowadays nobody felt the need to openly discuss it either, which was rather amazing since Naruto had a habit of bringing up taboo subjects. Sakura chose to believe it was a sign that he had matured. Eventually Sasuke had struggled his way out of his comatose state. The harsh circumstances at that time had forced Tsunade to label him chunin and not imprison him for treachery and desertion. Konoha had needed the workforce and Sasuke had been too big an upper hand to ignore. This meant that his renewed loyalty hadn't been questioned at the time of his return. Nowadays, with no imminent war hovering on the horizon, his loyalty was questioned six days to Sunday. He hadn't been charged with treachery primarily because Naruto had objected to it, but also because he had paid off a lot of his debt during the war. He had saved a lot of Konoha citizens and had very near entered a second coma at one point. He had worked hard to reinstate himself. However, Tsunade still refused to let him try out for jonin until the day he passed his psychological tests with flying colors.
Needless to say, Sasuke's mind was an ugly place to be and it hadn't grown any prettier in his adult years.
Sakura herself had risen in ranks to jonin at the age of seventeen and a half. It was around that time her father had passed away as well. Now, roughly a year later, she worked at the hospital as a fulltime medic and spent most of her time making progress in that area. She couldn't remember the last time she had been outside the village gates on a mission. She should ask Tsunade for a day off.
Shikamaru and Ino returned to the table with new beverages for everyone. Almost immediately Ino caught Sakura's gaze and leaned forward across the table. Sakura recognized the move and leaned across the table herself.
"Guess who we saw just now," Ino said and lowered her voice so only Sakura could hear. "Kakashi. With a woman."
Sakura sat up straighter. "A woman?"
It was a known fact that while Sakura regularly bumped into Kakashi at the hospital, he never stuck around to talk. He said his obnoxious 'yo' and continued onwards to the exit with his plotless pornography safely in hand. As Sakura had always suspected, Kakashi wasn't the type to get attached. He was somewhat eccentric when it came to that. But it still stung when a person you respected and admired stopped associating with you beyond the customary wave and hello. He had pretty much run off both from her and Naruto after they had ascended to jonin rank. Ironically, they saw less of the man now that they were his equals in rank.
"Some big breasted redhead," Ino said and took a sip of her drink.
"The corner over there."
And indeed Kakashi was sitting at a table not far away from the bar. His silver hair was impossible to miss even in the dim light of the bar. Doing a quick examination of the situation, Sakura supposed that, yes, Kakashi was with a woman. But Genma and a couple of other jonin that she vaguely remembered having seen at the jonin headquarters were sitting by the table as well. So despite how the woman was crowding close to Kakashi and was touching his shoulder with her brightly painted nails, a fashion that Sakura had never fully understood, she was a simple addition to an all-male group. Not an addition to Kakashi in particular.
"He's with Genma," Sakura pointed out, but Ino shook her head.
"He's with her."
"And why would he be?" Sakura asked and humored her friend.
"Because Kakashi has sex too."
"Don't be gross," Sakura said with her eyes still set on Kakashi and his friends. Ino noticed and raised an eyebrow. The eyebrow was Ino's normal way of making Sakura feel like the dirt that farmers scraped off their boots by the end of a working day. But here, in the closed off atmosphere of the local bar where they were surrounded by the potent smell of whiskey and stale cigarette smoke, she made Sakura feel dirty in a way that had her ears and face burn. Everybody knew that teachers didn't eat, sleep, buy groceries, did laundry or had sex like all other humans. They were teachers.
"I don't see how Kakashi having sex is gross," Ino said.
"I do," Sakura said with an air of finality and swept her pink hair off her sweaty neck. The air inside the bar was so heavy and stifled it could melt wax. Sakura was all too aware of how the thin stockings underneath her dress groped her legs like phantom hands and fingers. She should have remembered how much she hated dressing up, but the situation had called for it. She had done it for Naruto. It was his night and she would look pretty for her best friend.
"Kakashi is a man. All men think with their cocks to some extent," Ino said, not at all wary of the men that they were rubbing shoulders with and if they should accidentally overhear her.
"You've had too many bad boyfriends," Sakura said.
"You've had none at all."
Sakura ran an idle finger along the brim of her glass. She could still remember Ino's first serious boyfriend, some ANBU operator who had made the mistake of calling Sakura frigid the first time Ino had introduced them. His following excuse had been 'rumor precedes you'. He had ended up with pudding smeared across his face and ice cubes shoved down his pants. That night Ino had defended Sakura's honor and had kicked Jiro out of her place. Only Ino was allowed to call Sakura frigid.
"I'm tied up with work at the hospital," Sakura said. "You know I have to pay rent for two places."
"Your mom needs to get over her depression," Ino said and grabbed a napkin from the table to wipe her hands with. "She's pulling you down with her."
"The last time I brought over her medication the dose had doubled," Sakura said. When Sakura had lost her father, she had lost her mother too. Ino might have sounded inconsiderate, but she was speaking the truth. Sakura didn't want to end up with a woman she couldn't call mother, but she was running out of options fast. Her mother was already a walking drugstore and Sakura, the daughter, had become the drug provider.
"We need something stronger," Ino said and turned to the boys. "Let's get shitfaced!"
Two hours later, the five of them lay draped all over each other.
"I'm going to the bathroom," Sakura said and swallowed a hiccup. She stood up with a hand on the table to support herself. She swayed on her feet, but she didn't stumble or fall. That was good. Good, good. Miraculously, she made her way across the room without knocking anything or anyone over. But, as fate would have it, when she turned the corner to the bathrooms, she bumped face first into Kakashi and his redheaded lady friend.
"Hello Sakura," Kakashi greeted. Sakura blinked and steadied herself with a hand on a nearby wall. She looked at the redheaded woman pressed up against Kakashi's side. An impressive amount of cleavage was threatening to spill over the thin lace at the front of her dress. Spill over or split it in half. It was a pretty dress. Sakura felt sorry for the dress.
"I haven't met your girlfriend," Sakura said and nodded towards the woman. "You should introduce us."
Kakashi shook his head, letting the woman curl her manicured hand around his bicep.
"She's not your girlfriend?"
Kakashi's demeanor remained pleasant. "You should go back to Ino."
And, as usual, you could only eversuspect things with Kakashi and never know them for sure, because hell would run over the day that he let you know what kind of socks he wore on Mondays. Sakura ignored the scowl on the woman's face and her grip on Kakashi's arm. She knew what a woman looked like when she was pulling in her catch. It bothered Sakura that Kakashi would get pulled in so easily.
"You never congratulated me when I became jonin," she said and fisted the hand that was splayed out on the wall. She felt betrayed, she realized with a sudden pang. She felt betrayed that Kakashi would bring this stranger home with him, but wouldn't stop in the hallways of the hospital to chat with her. Admittedly, Kakashi wasn't the chatting type, but they had a long history together. He was one of the people that she admired and respected most in her life.
Kakashi's eye swerved to the wall and Sakura's fisted hand. His brow creased.
"I'm sure that I-" he began.
"No, you didn't. I was your first student to become jonin. You're a crappy teacher not to be proud of your students."
She didn't wait to see if his brow creased this time. A thick wave of nausea rolled up her throat, and she pushed away from the wall that she was leaning against.
"I gotta-" she said and waved her teacher and his female companion aside. She stumbled into the ladies room, skidded across the slippery floor and threw herself at the sink just in time to empty her stomach into the pristine porcelain. A minute later, she resurfaced and felt even worse. She fought to keep her knees locked. She would not slide to the floor like a pathetic lightweight. No. She groaned low in her throat and pressed her hot forehead against the mirror.
A piece of damp paper was pressed into her palm.
Sakura looked up, startled, and found Kakashi's lady companion standing beside her. She had handed Sakura the piece of paper.
"Dry your mouth. He's waiting for you outside," the woman said and turned on her heel. Gathering her wits, Sakura wiped her mouth clean and exited the bathroom on wobbly legs.
Kakashi stood outside the bathroom with his hands in his pockets.
"You're going to regret this in the morning," he said and Sakura snorted.
"What part of it, sensei?" she asked.
He laughed. It was a low and masculine sound that made Sakura think of the redheaded woman.
"Sorry," she said. "Are you mad?"
"Will you walk me home?" she asked. Even if she had been sober, she would have had trouble handling a mad Kakashi. Now that she was drunk, it was even harder. Kakashi didn't get mad. He got indifferent. More so than normally. But he didn't get angry.
Kakashi slid his hands out of his pockets and rubbed his chin through the mask.
"I'm not that mad, Sakura. I can walk you home," he said.
As Kakashi lead her though the bar and they stepped out onto the deserted street, Sakura decided that she could apologize to Naruto tomorrow. Outside the bar, the air was cool and there was a gentle breeze that made her appreciate that she had worn a bra underneath the thin material of her dress. The bra was simple and it was old, but it kept her warm and she wouldn't be flashing Kakashi her breasts.
Sakura blinked, licking her dry lips, "'cuse me?"
"Lamppost," Kakashi said again.
His gloved hand grabbed her wrist and she was pulled aside right before she would have banged her forehead straight into a lamppost. Ah. Lamppost. The thing that Kakashi had tried to warn her about.
"It was in m'blind spot," Sakura said and grimaced with discomfort when she stepped on a rock and the straps of her high heels gnawed into her feet. She let out a quiet hiss under her breath. She had to be sobering up if she could feel her feet hurt.
"Of course it was," Kakashi said and slowed down his walk. "Those heels can't be comfortable. I don't think I've seen you in heels and a dress before."
"You only see me at the hospital where m'in my uniform."
"Right, that skimpy little nurse outfit you prance around in."
"It's a uniform," Sakura said. "And Naruto said it gave me chicken legs, the bastard. He's just afraid strange perverts will go home and jerk off to me. What were you doin' out with Genma?"
"He broke up with his girlfriend," Kakashi answered.
"Oh, he was on the lookout for a rebound fuck?"
Her foot slipped and she tripped, heading for the ground with her face first. Fortunately Kakashi's hand curled around her upper arm and pulled her back up. As Kakashi let go of her arm, she caught him muttering: "Where does she pick up these things?"
"I spent my time around nurses and emotionally stunted men," Sakura answered and righted herself. "I bet this isn't how you had pictured your night to turn out. Walking your drunken ass student home."
"Fellow jonin, you mean," he corrected her. They turned a corner and Sakura nearly skidded halfway across the street. Kakashi caught hold of her again and got her back on the sidewalk next to him.
Naruto and Sasuke both were lazy drunks. This had rubbed off on Sakura. The moment that she stepped through her creaking bedroom door, she would flop down on her bed, grunting and snoring unattractively into her pillow. Then, around midday, she would wake up with fuzzy teeth, smudged make-up and a wrinkled dress that was beyond saving. Some women woke up looking like a skin cleanser commercial and others just woke up looking ugly. Sakura was the latter. Of course, if she had to work at the hospital, she wouldn't sleep until noon. But, as it was, she had enough sense of responsibility not to drink if she had to work the day after. Less could be said for Naruto and Sasuke, but technically they didn't know when they would be working. Field work was irregular and often caught you by surprise. Work at the hospital was regular and you could plan an everyday schedule after it.
"Why did you wait for me?" she asked Kakashi. "At the bar?"
"I figured you would need an escort home," Kakashi answered.
"After I had thrown up in front of you."
She thought of an incident some years ago. She had gotten her period during a weeklong mission, and she had had to face Kakashi and explain just why they needed to make an urgent stop in the next village. And, of course, Kakashi would think of this incident too.
"It can't be much worse than that mission to-"
"Please don't go there," Sakura said. She could feel her face burn. "I wasn't the one who came to the hospital last week, because I had cut halfway through my hand with a kitchen knife. D'you even cook? At all? What were you doing with that knife?"
Kakashi wisely chose to change the subject.
"This is your street, isn't it?" he asked.
"Yeah," Sakura said, taking the bait. "It is."
Her building stood tall and proud a few feet ahead of them. The blue windows and doors stuck out like a sore thumb in the otherwise white and beige neighborhood. The flower-clustered yard in front of the building also set it apart from the rest of the apartments that were cramped together on the narrow side road that Sakura called her home. Kakashi followed Sakura through the small yard and the rest of the way up to the blue front door. There they both stopped.
"Thanks for walking me home," Sakura said and fidgeted with her purse, looking for her key.
"Anytime," Kakashi said and smiled. He had his hands in his pockets as per usual.
"You don't mean that," Sakura said and unlocked the door with the key that she fished out of her purse.
"Not really, no," Kakashi said, still smiling.
Shaking her head, Sakura put a hand on the doorknob. But she didn't turn it. Instead, she looked back over her shoulder at Kakashi.
"You were really gonna sleep with that woman?"
Kakashi sighed and scratched his neck, but he didn't seem all that surprised. He must have known that she wouldn't let it go that easily. Sakura didn't hold grudges, but she chased answers until she got them. Sometimes Sakura could get a little too curious. A little too eager. She blamed it on Naruto's bad influence over the past many years. And Kakashi was an enigma. Always had been. He had no straightforward answers. And that was why it was interesting to chase those answers. While Sakura wasn't exactly justified to ask him if he had planned to sleep with a random woman, she certainly felt that she was entitled to ask for confirmation that he indeed had planned to do it.
"You're an adult, Sakura," Kakashi said. "You know the answer to that. I don't need to point it out to you."
Ino's words from earlier came back to Sakura. She would later blame her drunken mouth for what she said next.
"Have you ever thought about doing that with me? I know that Naruto has thought of it."
Kakashi's lone eye stared at her. And stared.
"Sakura," he said. "You're drunk."
"Sakura," he said again. His voice was different from before. There was a warning in there, still, but there was something else, too. Something that had Sakura breathe harder and something that set her skin aflame so unexpectedly that she stepped back as if she had been slapped. Suddenly, Kakashi wasn't Kakashi anymore. He was someone else. Someone that Sakura wanted to explore.
"Go sleep it off," Kakashi said. "We can catch up another time."
"All right. G'night. Thanks again."
Then Sakura was inside her building. She leaned back against the blue door and took a deep breath.
Sakura woke up to a steady pounding on her door.
"Sakura, open up the door. I'll knock it in if I have to."
Sakura groaned and rolled over onto her stomach. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and shivered when her bare feet touched the cold floorboards. Snuffles had been kicked to the floor during the night and Sakura very nearly tripped over the stuffed toy as she made her way across her bedroom. Her head hurt and her vision was bleary. After what felt like a lifetime, Sakura reached her front door and unlocked it. Ino stood outside. Sakura swallowed a burb that threatened to escape her stomach.
"About time," Ino said and strolled inside Sakura's apartment. "Where did you run off to yesterday? You could have told me you went home."
Sakura lingered by the open door. She yet had to fully realize that Ino had stepped inside the apartment already.
"Close the door," Ino said. She put a hand on her cocked hip and waited for to Sakura pad over to the couch and flop down on the flower patterned cushions. The couch was secondhand and incredibly ugly, but by God it was soft and snuggly. It cradled Sakura's head like a baby, and today Sakura's head needed a whole lot of babying.
"So?" Ino said. "Where did you run off to? Did you meet someone? A cute guy, maybe?"
Vaguely, Sakura wondered why Ino never suffered from hangovers.
"Kakashi walked me home."
Ino crinkled her brow. "Wait, I thought-"
"I asked him if he had ever thought about sleeping with me," Sakura said. There was a long pause.
She laughed so hard that she bent over and nearly touched the floor with her head. Sakura sat on her couch and let Ino laugh, because while Ino would never let Sakura live this moment down, the disappointment that Sakura felt low in her stomach was much more foreboding. Was she disappointed because she had potentially fucked over her friendship with Kakashi, or was she disappointed because he hadn't answered her question?