Note: Oh my GOD an update! You are not dreaming, do not adjust your computer monitors, this is an actual update. Explanation for this insanity at the bottom!
Sakura paused at the entrance of the dressing room and scowled at Kakashi, who was sitting on a leather sofa with a pink, satin sash wrapped around his neck and the ends drawn up in the air in his right hand, as if he were attempting to hang himself right there. She lifted her foot, pulled off one sparkling ballet slipper, and then threw it at him.
"You're not funny," she scolded, even though she was smiling. "I told you to leave half an hour ago. You just stayed to be a butthead."
"Butthead?" he asked with a laugh, dropping the sash abruptly so it settled around his neck like a scarf. "I haven't been called that since school." He cocked his head at her. "I don't like that one."
Sakura sighed and plucked at the skirt of the dress she had on. "I don't either," she muttered. The cut made her look like a ten-year-old boy and the pastel yellow of the fabric was too young; she had a hard time convincing people she was out of high school as it was. "I'm not even crazy about the shoes."
Kakashi inspected the flat that had bounced harmlessly off the side of his skull and landed on the couch beside him. "Try the green one I picked," he said, throwing it back to her. "With the heels you had on before."
She caught the shoe deftly and frowned as she turned it over in her hands. "So… how do you know so much about women's clothes?"
He lolled his head back against the arm of the couch to look up the skirt of nearby mannequin. "Because I'm very, very gay."
She laughed and a wry grin tugged at his lips. "I'm serious."
"Sakura, I draw women all the time. I need to put them in something… well, sometimes."
"Oh, so this is from a perv point of view?"
"Connoisseur," he corrected. He rolled his head to the side and lifted a hand to check his watch. "C'mon, just try on that last one and let's go. I'm starved."
"Quit giving me that look."
"C'mon, tell me who did a good job."
Sakura rolled her eyes and bumped her shoulder into Kakashi's gently, the two of them walking a crowded street to a restaurant they had discovered a few weeks previously. He had a dress bag slung back over his shoulder as he carried another bag in his free hand. "You're being childish. I can't believe you're in your thirties," she said.
He grinned and nudged her. "You just don't want to say anything because if you had just tried on the dress I picked out we wouldn't have been there for three hours." He glanced over at her. "At least tell me where you're going to wear this."
Sakura smiled. "What says I'm going to tell you?"
He gave her a hard look and she replied by crossing her eyes and sticking her tongue out at him, earning a laugh. "Are you going on some secret mission to a fancy party?" he wondered
"That at least sounds fun," she snorted. "My grandmother is a professor at the university and there's some sort of charity dinner party thing in a few weeks and she's roped me into going with her."
Kakashi blinked. "Your grandmother's a professor?"
"Well, she's a doctor turned professor. I never mentioned that?"
"Uh, no." Kakashi shook his head and cleared his throat. "But that's good. I was worried you were putting that kind of effort into another one of those dates of yours."
Sakura reached out to shove him away from her and he laughed as he dodged out of her reach. He opened his mouth to retort, but closed it sharply and darted toward a storefront window with speed Sakura wouldn't have credited him with. Then she saw what kind of store it was and oh didn't that just figure? "Kakashi," she whined, stomping over to him. "I thought you were starving? You can come back to your dirty little store some other time. Like when I'm not with you."
"Hey now," he pouted. "I sat through you trying on all of those ridiculous dresses. And it's just books. Nothing else."
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. I'll wait out here, but if I have to come in there after you no one will be happy."
He grinned at her (sending her heart careening into her ribs) and then vanished beyond the doors, leaving her holding her bags.
Forcing out a sigh, Sakura made her way to the nearest bench and plopped down. She laid her bags beside her and then reached into her purse to withdraw her cell phone, which she flipped open to begin a text message to Jiraiya about how much she hated him and her job and why did she know so many people in the 'adult entertainment' industry anyway?
It didn't surprise her in the least when she received a text in response not a few moments later: I still need a secretary.
She replied while rolling her eyes: Thanks for perspective.
Sakura settled back to text Ino then and was startled out of the mindless, button-pushing reverie some twenty minutes later when a whole group of feet walked passed… and one pair remained.
It was a tone Sakura was familiar with; greasy like the one her neighbor used whenever he was trying to win her over—although he deserved a little credit because he was at least kind of charming when he tried. Reflexively she ignored it (and the urge to deck him) and continued texting.
A foot forcefully nudged the edge of the seat to her right. "Hey, I'm talking to you."
She glanced to her right, spotting a group of boys—high schoolers—standing not thirty feet away and watching with stupid grins on their faces. Okay, now she wanted to deck the guy just to embarrass him. "And I'm ignoring you," she replied. "What's that tell you?"
There was a disbelieving scoff and Sakura jumped when her phone was suddenly snatched out of her hands. She looked up sharply and narrowed her eyes at the dark ones staring down at her. "It tells me you're rude," he replied coolly.
Sakura clenched her jaw and was just about ready to jump to her feet when a hand suddenly stole her phone away from the original thief and she looked up to see that it was a Kakashi, wearing a rather bored expression. "She was trying to be polite," he said calmly. "On the other hand, that doesn't matter to me, so fuck off."
"What's your problem, old man?" the kid (because that's the only acknowledgement he deserved) demanded. "Get the hell out of here. We're talking."
Kakashi regarded him coolly for a second and then leaned to look at Sakura. "You okay?" he wondered.
The kid's cheeks reddened a little at this as he took a step forward. "I said—"
Sakura watched as Kakashi moved forward as well, as if to meet the challenge, and then casually and smoothly ducked down and pulled the kid's pants to his ankles. The kid tried to move out of the way but that only aided Kakashi's effort and the boy ended face-first on the sidewalk.
Sakura blinked, surprised at first by what had just happened. The next moment, however, she burst into laughter, her eyes squeezed tightly shut as she slapped a hand over her mouth to stifle herself. She heard the other boys laughing as well as Kakashi picked up one of her bags in one hand and the offered the other to her. She grabbed on, her other bag in her free hand, and let him pull her to her feet. "You okay?" he asked again.
Sakura nodded and squeezed his hand tightly in reply.
Kakashi smiled back as he slung her dress bag over his shoulder again and when they passed the group of boys, he acknowledged them only long enough to shoot them a warning look.
"You're crazy," she said with a glance back over her shoulder once they were a safe distance down the street.
"I heard that a lot of geniuses get that." He grinned at her exasperated eye-roll and shrugged. "Blame Obito."
"No specific reason. It's just what I always do."
Kakashi was in trouble. He knew that much with absolute certainty.
He took a breath as he admired his spotless apartment. Sakura had to leave early to have dinner with her grandmother, but promised to be back with take-out for him.
It wasn't lust or loneliness or anything he could readily dismiss because she was beautiful, because he had met dozens of beautiful women, many of whom had thrown their selves at him. It wasn't just because she was there either because he liked being alone.
He just didn't want to be so much anymore.
A tiny flame of hope ignited in him when she revealed that she didn't have a date for that night or any one planned in the future. "I told Ino that I'm done with all of that for a while," she had explained. "Besides, if there's someone out there for me, I'll eventually find him."
In any book—in his books—that would have been the cue for the hero to say something suave and smooth, to assure her that maybe the man she was looking for was right under her nose, or right across the room. But those were books and this was reality where he was too old for her and clearly out of his mind, among other things.
Kakashi had a pencil in one hand and his forehead resting in the other. Obito was leaning over his desk.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, quietly cursing how much his work absorbed him and Obito's skills with a lock pick.
"Just checkin' on you," Obito replied, his eyes still transfixed on the drawing until Kakashi covered it with his hand. "That's… that was a really good one." He coughed, awkwardly. "I mean… wow. I didn't know you looked at her—at any woman like that."
"Don't tell her," Kakashi muttered.
The Uchiha's eyebrows lifted. "Why not? I think she'd be flattered. Most women would."
Kakashi pulled his hand away long enough to look at the drawing again. Sakura had wandered into his apartment the other day wearing a pair of ragged cut-offs and a straw hat with a frayed edge and she had been just so damn picturesque. Weakened by boredom, he gave in to the nagging temptation to draw her and to his disgust he was getting better at drawing the strong, angular shape of her shoulders in contrast to her narrow hips and waist. It was starting to look like Sakura, rather than some fantasy.
"You love her?"
He scoffed and dropped his pencil in favor of cradling his head in both hands. "I haven't known her that long."
"But you're crazy about her?"
Kakashi made a small noise in the back of his throat and then followed this with a louder, hopeless groan. "What's wrong with me?"
Obito smiled a little. He was standing with his back to the desk, resting his weight lightly against it with his arms folded and his eyes focused on the floor, a distant look taking them. "Nothin'. It just happens like that sometimes. You just get blind-sided and…" He trailed off, rubbing at the back of his head. "I don't blame you. She's beautiful."
"Yeah. And young." He shot his friend a meaningful look.
"Older men date younger women all the time," Obito replied. Then he snorted and added, "Older men than you date younger girls than her all the time." He glanced at his friend. "That really isn't the problem though, is it?"
Kakashi pushed himself out of his chair, crossing his apartment to the kitchen, which still sparkled from its latest scrubbing. He carried with him a stack of dishes and when he reached the kitchenette, he tipped them into the sink.
Obito persisted. "Tell her."
"It's not that easy."
"Yes, it is," he argued. "What's stopping you?"
Kakashi smashed a palm to his forehead as he let his weight sink back against the cupboard behind him. "Obito, look at me."
"Fine, you're not much to look at, but she doesn't seem to—"
"I didn't mean like that."
Obito raised an eyebrow at his friend and then sighed and crossed his arms. "Is this about your job?"
"You don't think that's a problem?"
The Uchiha shrugged. "No, I don't," he said. "She's your friend—shut up, she is—so it doesn't seem like she cares much either. Besides, if she's in any way related to Jiraiya you know that's just a poor excuse." His paused and then his eyes suddenly narrowed. "Ah, I know what this really is."
Kakashi scrubbed his face with both hands. "What is it?"
"It's that thing you do."
"I do not have a thing."
"Yeah, you do. It's that thing where you push away people who get too close to ya. You tried it on Gai and me for years."
"I think that reflects more poorly on you two than me." Kakashi skimmed a hand over the counter top. "Look, it's nothing serious, Obito. It's just… a crush. We spend a lot of time together, she's pretty, I'm an old pervert—it's going to happen. But this isn't something I want to screw up, so just let it go."
Obito turned to watch his friend as the man returned to his desk. "You know the worst part about being your friend sometimes, Kakashi?" he asked suddenly, his tone subdued but his words piercing the apartment anyway. "It's knowing how miserable you really are. And worse than that? Knowing how content you are with it. I mean, forget falling in love and taking a risk that could make life, ya know, worth living. Nah, keep everyone at arm's length. I mean, you wouldn't want to be happy or anything like that. God forbid."
Kakashi sat with his back purposefully to the Uchiha, one hand cradling his forehead as he reached for his pencil again. "Cut me some slack," he muttered. "I'm just trying to keep my head above water."
Obito stared at him for a long time and then looked away. "You'll probably want to hit me for this," he began carefully, his hands digging into his pockets as he squared his shoulders and visibly braced himself, "But I knew your old man. He wouldn't want this for you. I mean, if you're right about—"
Pain and anger in equal measure shot into Kakashi's system and he turned sharply to face his friend and stood, nearly knocking his chair over. But punching his friend was delayed when his eyes instantly met a pair of startled green eyes watching from the apartment door.
Obito frowned and turned, his own eyes widening at the sight of Sakura, who was glancing back and forth between the pair of them uneasily.
Kakashi glowered at Obito when their eyes met again and his friend's shoulders sank considerably. "I should get going," he muttered.
Sakura frowned as Obito squeezed her shoulder as he passed her on the way out the door, which he then closed behind him.
Kakashi didn't say anything to Sakura before he hunkered down at his desk with a dark storm cloud churning over his head. This might have left her a little miffed if she were a complete idiot.
Obito's words hadn't escaped her and neither had Kakashi's reaction to them. She glanced over at the man.
She had wondered, more than once, about his situation. Why was he so alone? Why did he lock himself away in this apartment? She knew he had friends, but did he have family, or anyone he loved at all? What had happened to them?
It occurred to her, a little too late she realized, that she didn't really know anything about the man that she was falling for.
Which was something that she wasn't going to think about. The last thing she needed to do was start getting all stupid about her handsome boss—or client or whatever their working relationship really was—and risk losing her very well-paying job and the very comfortable friendship they had.
"You should eat."
The furious scratching of Kakashi's pen paused as she laid a plate of food down on his desk near his elbow. He had his forehead cradled in his free hand and even though she was standing barely two feet from him, he didn't look at her.
"I know you. You probably haven't had anything since lunch," she went on. "I think Jiraiya wants me to take care of you as much as your apartment, so…" She trailed off and shrugged. "I'm going to clean the bathroom and continue sorting the books. Let me know if you need anything."
Kakashi didn't move or say or do anything and she was equal parts concerned by this and weirdly content as she turned away. She wanted to ask—oh, how badly she wanted to ask—but she just couldn't. Judging by the look he had given Obito, someone he had known for years, she didn't suspect that her inquiries would go over half so well. And yet, the curiosity still nagged her. What did Obito mean with that reference to Kakashi's father?
Sakura shook her head and did her best to push the thought from her mind. It didn't matter, she told herself. It didn't matter.
"How's it going?"
Sakura looked up quickly and couldn't stop the smile from blooming across her lips at the sight of Kakashi awkwardly standing over her, his hands in his pockets and obviously not sure how to break the silence that had been reigning over them all evening. "Pretty good," she replied. "Although I'm still not sure if I should be amused or appalled that one man owns this much smut."
He rolled his eyes and but smiled for the first time that night and took a seat beside her. "What letter are we on?"
"'S' actually," she replied and from the corner of her eye she saw him almost blanch when she lifted one volume of Strings from the pile.
To her surprise, it looked pretty innocuous. The girl on the cover was maybe a bit chesty, but her pose was demure and she was accompanied by a large cast of other characters who all varied greatly in appearance and, in the case of the female characters, chest sizes. The drawing was really pretty—everything he drew was really, she almost envied him for it—and the colors were pastel and muted. To an almost disturbing extent, this looked like something that she might pick up at the bookstore.
"Can I borrow this?"
The question came out before she could stop herself and it occurred to her right then that that curiosity of hers would not be so easily stemmed.
She liked this man and she found that she genuinely wanted to get to know him more than she did already. As an added bonus, a little taste of his art would offer her a look into his mind and help her decide if she wanted to pursue her interest any further.
"After scolding me and everything?" he teased.
Sakura shrugged. "Call it curiosity. I mean, I'm working for you so I might as well."
"Oh. Well, then actually…" Kakashi reached around her to another stack, one hand coming down on her knee to balance himself as he searched with the other. A moment later, he drew out a different book and offered it out. "Start with this one. It's, uh, a little less…" He spared her a critical, uneasy look. "I mean, you remember what I write, don't you?"
Sakura shot him a bland look. "Are there a lot of ball-gags and toys and tentacles involved?"
Kakashi's cheeks flared pink in response—something that was definitely going down on her calendar when she got home. "No!" He sounded almost mortified. "It's nothing kinky like that—okay, there's probably one scene that's iffy, but it isn't—"
She plucked the book out of his hands and smiled. "Then I think I'll live. My grandmother's version of sex education was probably more horrifying. It involved diagrams—a lot of diagrams. Besides, you don't grow up with a super pervert like Jiraiya without learning a thing or two ahead of your time." She paused as she examined the cover of this book and then she smiled. "Have I told you how much I like your art style?"
He shifted. "No, I don't think so."
Sakura looked to him and smiled wider. "Well, I do. Who did you learn from?"
Kakashi shifted his weight again, looking uncomfortable. "No one really, but my dad enrolled me in a few art classes when I was a kid."
"Oh." She felt the color leave her face. "That's nice. I always wanted to learn to draw or play piano or sing or something, but I'm not very artistic. No one in my family really is, so maybe it's their fault. I mean, it's not like they discouraged it, but Mom's a nurse and Grandma's a surgeon so I think they kind of expected me to—" She stop short and clapped her mouth shut immediately as she shot him an apologetic glance. "Sorry. Rambling."
For several moments, neither of them spoke. Kakashi arranged and rearranged his long limbs as Sakura traced her thumbs up and then down the spine of the book she held. It was awkward, but curiously it wasn't really uncomfortable in the strictest sense. For Sakura, it just felt like one of those moments where they both understood what needed to be said but neither of them had any idea as to how to go about it. It was a first, but she wished that she were Ino for just a second. The blond was not what one would call tactful, but her ability to plunge headfirst into an exceedingly awkward conversation without batting an eyelash would be handy.
After a while, it was Kakashi who finally broke the silence, his voice very low and quiet as he very tentatively asked, "How much did you hear earlier?"
Sakura pushed a lock of hair anxiously behind her ear. "Not a lot," she replied. "Just… most of what Obito said about being your friend and then when he mentioned your dad."
Kakashi nodded and said nothing.
She sat there with him until she couldn't stand it anymore and gave up. "I should probably go, I guess," she murmured. "I'll see you tomorrow."
He nodded again and then picked himself up off the floor. "I'll walk with you. Give me a second."
They got off the bus four blocks from Sakura's building and walked the rest of the way together, her hands tucked in the pockets of her jacket.
Her mind buzzed anxiously. She needed to say something—do something—to ease this tension between them before it drove her crazy. And there was no doubt in her mind that it had everything to do with what Obito had said and what was implied by what he said. Given his overall demeanor, she supposed that she wasn't surprised to know that Kakashi's past was an unhappy one, but it seemed that there was also something there that was darker than she had expected.
She glanced up at him.
Kakashi was a very, very private person—what else did you call someone who lived like he did? And it made sense that he was uncomfortable with what she overheard and with the prospect of having to explain it (because no matter what she said, it would always be an enormous, looming elephant in his very cramped apartment).
"I've lived here all my life," she spoke up suddenly, earning a very strange, sideways look from Kakashi. She smiled in an attempt to reassure him and pressed on, "My mom and dad both grew up here, just on opposite sides of the city. They ended up working at the same hospital—he was a doctor—and they hit it off."
"That kind of runs in your family, huh?"
Sakura smiled. "It seems that way, doesn't it?"
He nodded and shot another glance her way. "So… past tense?"
The girl nodded. "Yeah. He died when I was ten; a car accident. My mom tried, but she just couldn't take it and ended up leaving the city. The memories were just too much for her."
"Why didn't you go with her?"
"She wanted me to," Sakura replied, shrugging, "but Grandma called her crazy. She didn't think that there was a point in uprooting me any more than his death already had—I mean, I had friends and I was in a really good school and everything. So I started living with her. I think Grandma figured that eventually Mom would come back and we could just move on. Instead Mom remarried."
Kakashi frowned as he stared straight ahead at the sidewalk. "Do you ever see her?"
They walked a little farther in quiet as this all sank in and Sakura searched for what else to say to fill the quiet. After all, she didn't have anything to hide. Not from him, at least.
"Most of my family isn't even really related to me," she pressed on. "Ino's family pretty much adopted me when we became friends and I've spent most of my vacations with them, Jiraiya thinks of himself as my godfather, and I do have another surrogate uncle, but he would make your skin crawl. Naruto, he's Jiraiya's actual godson, is like the brother I never had and his family is incredible too. He and his mom used to walk me home from school when I was really young." She glanced up at him. "I'm sorry. I'm kind of rambling again."
"It's all right, but why are you telling me this?"
Sakura shrugged. "I guess I just wanted you to know that it's okay." She looked up to meet his confused expression. "You don't have to explain anything to me, I don't expect that, but Obito made it sound bad—the situation with your father, I mean—and you've been acting really weird since then and I just want you to know that whatever it is, it wouldn't bother me. Not enough to change my opinion of you or anything, I mean." She sighed and lifted her hands to tuck some hair behind her ears. "Well, what I'm trying to say is that my life hasn't been exactly conventional and that I think of you as a friend and I don't want you to think that I'll just disappear on you because of… whatever."
Kakashi was at a loss for words and was thus quiet for almost two blocks. The combination of her sincerity and honesty and his own desire to confide in her had completely stripped him of his ability to speak.
The last people he had told about his father were Obito and Gai and that was only because they had been there when he got the news. It had been one of the only times he had been grateful for one of Gai's manly hugs, if only because he had found himself unable to stand on his own feet and Gai made for something convenient to lean on as he cried.
Now he wanted to tell Sakura about his father and that baffled him. It felt right, like it was just one part of the natural progression of things, but he had never felt that impulse before in his life. Sure, they were close. After only a few months, he felt closer to her than he did most people he had since he was kid and the fact that she was willing to confide in him if only to make things feel even, seemed to indicate that she felt the same way.
So for the rest of the walk to her place he struggled to find the right words; not wanting to sugarcoat things, but knowing that it had to be said with some degree of finesse.
A combination of regret and relief washed over him when they ended up in front of her building and he was still tongue-tied.
"Well, this is me," she said, her eyes carefully fixed on the ground. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Kakashi nodded mutely, frantically searching for something to say. He watched her turn away and, briefly panicking, he grabbed her wrist. Sakura started at this and turned to look at him, her brows lifted. "Thank you," he blurted suddenly and then just barely resisted the urge to smack himself because what the hell kind of reply was that?
"What?" she asked.
He shrugged, awkwardly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. His grip had loosened, his hand sliding from her wrist to hold hers, and it startled him a little when he felt her long, lithe fingers slip between his. It was almost surreal. "Everything," he mumbled finally and then with a little ironic humor added, "I don't know why you bother."
Sakura was unfazed, shrugging one shoulder as she smiled. "I like you," she replied simply.
Kakashi decided to ignore the fact that there was something else to her words, the fact that she hadn't let go of his hand, and the fact that he was yet to let go of hers. The fact that he really didn't want to let go. He glanced up at the face of her apartment building. "So, what are the odds that your neighbor is entertaining a friend tonight?"
She blanched a little and made a face. "Oh, why did you have to say that?" she whined, looking up at the building as well. "I don't even want to go up there now."
He tried hard not to grin even though he desperately wanted to. "So… coffee?"
Sakura shot him a narrow look. "You did that on purpose."
She eyed him for a moment longer and then rolled her eyes and nodded (he didn't miss the way her hand squeezed his). "All right. I imagine that should give them enough time to, um, finish and say good night." She shook her head and covered her face with her free hand. "We need to talk about something else. Now."
Kakashi smiled when he felt her grip tighten on his hand and he squeezed back as he began to lead her back the way they had come. "Tell me more about your family."
1. Oh my God, an update! I know I already said that but I feel that it should be repeated because it's been over a freakin' year! No one is more ashamed of that than me, I assure you. Although that sounds weird to say because why would any of you be ashamed of that? You should be pissed!
2. Explanation: No, this is not the last chapter. Yes, I had planned on finishing this up in three, but sitting at my computer tonight, rereading this I realized that I couldn't manage it in three in a way that wouldn't see rushed and contrived and contrary to what my opinion usually is of my own writing, I do really love this story and I want to give it the ending it deserves.
3. So when will part 4 be up? Good question. The fact is that I'm not sure. I have a lot of projects going right now, so it's really anyone's guess. I will try to have it updated before a year passes, though if that's an consolation.
4. As for the chapter content-wise: I want to say that I like it but my own hesitance suggests that my feelings are more mixed than I think. I like the direction it's going in, I suppose. I wanted to keep at least a small portion of Kakashi's back story from the series proper in tact and even though it's going to be heavily adjusted to fit the context of this fic, I hope it comes out the way I wanted to.
5. To address a few nitpicky things: No, Sakura's neighbor is not Genma. I don't submit to the slimy perverted lush interpretation of Genma's character. Instead, for your amusement, imagine that it's Hidan. You know, the fandom version of Hidan where he's charming and funny and not just an out-and-out sociopath. Also, yes Sakura's other surrogate uncle is exactly who you think it is and I laughed myself stupid at the idea.
Although I know I don't deserve it given the unforgivable time between updates, I beg of you all to review and let me know what you think. Cheers, loves.