Disclaimer: I do NOT own Naruto or any of its characters, that right is reserved for Masashi Kishimoto.
I had this idea bouncing around in my head and I couldn't rest until I had finally written it down. Enjoy!
Settling, it was something that had been on his mind more and more of late. Did it by definition mean that you were 'settling' for second best? Or was there more to it than that?
Over the years more and more of his acquaintances had been 'settling down,' having children, teaching new gennin, or even retiring from active duty- and he wasn't sure how he felt about it.
It seemed unfathomable to him that anyone would want to quit going out on away missions or deal with idiot gennin that couldn't tell a kunai from their ass; but children… he didn't know what to think about that. He supposed that it was a shinobi's duty to assist in the creation of the next generation of nin, but was it for him?
This was the question of the hour for him; literally, he only had an hour to decide.
After the end of the third secret war Konoha had been left in a bad position. Tsunade had died along with hundreds of nin from every rank, and Naruto had gone into a coma that Sakura had told him could last anywhere from a day to forever. So the burden of Hokage had, again, fallen to Kakashi; only this time there was no last minute recovery to save him from accepting.
His first priorities had been to promote from within the ranks to fill in the most necessary of positions within the government and to secure the village from the outside world once more. There had been too many missing nin from Konoha in this last war, and they had used their knowledge of the village to decimate defenses that had been relied upon since the time of the First.
Now however, the biggest problem they were facing was under population.
After days of arguments with the council of elders and a ten hour meeting of the jounin, it had taken three separate ballots before they were able to break the deadlock and decide on what to do about the problem.
Many felt that the village didn't have the right to demand their jounin put in a concerted effort to reproduce, and equally as many believed that one of the responsibilities of being a nin of Konoha was to do whatever was required to protect the village- including procreation.
What it came down to was choice.
After the second deadlock of 20 for, 20 against, and 30 abstentions Kakashi had called an hour break for discussion. Refusing to spend any more time arguing with the council, he had gathered some of the jounin whose opinions he respected most.
Genma, Raido, and he had been abstentions because though willing to do anything required of them by the village, they weren't sure it was something that should be forced on the entire populace.
Kurenai and Shizune had been against it because they felt it was unfair to force women to give birth regardless of the facts. They could be single or even have children already, and they would still be forced to participate. How could the village ask a single woman to raise a child alone, or a single mother to have and raise more children?
But the real surprise had been Shikamaru and Sakura- the only jounin from the younger generation whose opinions he had cared to hear, and the only ones in his little group who had voted in favor of the new program. Though they did agree that there were some holes in the original proposal.
They suggested that it should indeed be mandatory to help in the village's repopulation, but that there should be both stipulations and exceptions.
So when the hour was over and the jounin had gathered again it had been Kakashi's job to announce the amendment to the ballot.
1. Any nin chuunin level or above who was of age would be required to submit a notice of their level of participation by the end of the week.
2. No nin completely unwilling would be forced to participate. However, if they did not they would be required to take on more missions and responsibilities in place of those who were.
3. The village would help any new parents financially and with things like daycare if required.
4. Any single woman who wished to have children would receive the village's support, but would still be given village responsibilities, just mostly within the village.
5. Any man willing to 'stud' for the women bearing children, would still be given regular responsibilities both in and out of the village.
6. Any single woman who already had a child or children would not be asked to participate and, if desired, all their major responsibilities would be within the village.
7. If any woman wished to bear a child but did not wish to raise it, the village would take the responsibility to find the child a family that would.
8. Married couples (willing to participate) would be asked to have (or raise) a minimum of two children.
9. Any nin who wished to participate would also be asked (but not required) to marry- to ensure a stable home for two or more children.
10. Any nin participating that did not have a partner to marry, but did not wish to raise a child alone could have their marriage arranged by the village; based on mental and genetic compatibility.
Needless to say there had been more than a few nin just as unhappy with the new plan as with the old, but in the end the ballot was passed 48 to 22, with no abstentions.
By Friday Kakashi had received the notices from all eligible nin. There were: 31 notices of non-participation, 8 notices from married couples that were willing to have/raise additional children to those they already had, 4 notices from childless married couples willing to have/raise two or more children, 7 notices from women willing to bear but unwilling to raise one or more children, 13 notices of couples who would marry in order to participate, and 18 notices of individuals willing to participate in the arranged marriages.
The problem was, Kakashi had yet to write a notice of his own.
Initially he thought he could get away with being a nonparticipant 'stud,' but that idea had been crushed just this morning by the council of elders. As Hokage it was imperative that he participate as a show of support for all those who had agreed to, but were still questioning their decisions.
After all, a full third of those eligible were chuunin, and (unlike the jounin who had been the only ones asked to vote on the matter) had never been asked to make such a life-changing decision for the village before.
Now, in one hour, Kakashi was supposed to submit the list of participants in the arranged marriages to the council, and he could see little choice but to add his own name to it.
He sighed as he added his own name to the list and set it aside to worry about later. After all, there was always the possibility that he wouldn't be chosen at all. The process for arranging marriages between two ninja had also been dreamt up by Shikamaru and Sakura, and was therefore beautifully convoluted.
First, the council would put together files with all the pertinent personality and genetic information on each candidate. These files would include information that was normally classified and would remain anonymous by excluding any physical descriptions and replacing their names with numbers. The thought being that their names and descriptions could bias one of the arrangement committee members.
The committee itself would consist of 2 traditional matchmakers, 2 psychologists, and 2 med-nins; and any arrangement would need to meet the approval of all of them…
Then there was also the fact that there were 11 males (including himself), but only 8 females who had agreed to participate. More, of the males Kakashi was the oldest at the age of 38, with the next oldest being 29; but of the eight females six were chuunin and only 3 were over the age of 20. Surely that alone would call for his exclusion from the program, wouldn't it?
Sakura tapped her pen nervously against the table, ignoring her fellow committee members' attempts at conversation.
She was acquainted with the two psychologists Akemi and Hiro from ANBU since they were usually called in when her job was done, and she knew Tama-kun from the hospital. The two older women Minori and Shiori (apparently sisters) she had never met before, but that was perfectly reasonable. Before this proposal she hadn't even considered getting married.
Okay, so maybe she had had a few girlish fantasies of her future, but she hadn't really had the time or inclination to pursue romance since she had gotten over Sasuke seven years ago. She supposed she could have made time, but her seventeen-year-old self hadn't wanted to get anywhere near potential heartache and then turning down potential suitors had just become a habit.
Really it was hilarious that the girl who had not desired either marriage or children at this point in her life had not only been one of the major forces behind the ballot passing, and had even been one of those chosen to be on the arrangement committee, but she had even agreed to participate in the arranged marriages herself.
It had been a hard decision, or at least it should have been- but in the end Sakura's natural pragmatism won out (as it usually did). She knew perfectly well that she was too busy to raise a child by herself, and the idea of not participating didn't sit well with her when it had been her proposal that had decided the future reproduction for chuunin and jounin alike.
Then of course there was the fact that after all the men she had turned down over the years, there wasn't really anyone interested right now. Well, not anyone she would even consider. Lee was still holding out hope for her to return his affections, but she was still holding out hope that he would open his eyes and see that though she had no interest whatsoever- there was definitely at least one woman out there that was. A civilian woman named Mina who lived next door to Lee's parents, and had been madly in love with him for several years now.
Sakura couldn't see the appeal, but she did understand the feeling of loving someone who didn't even see you. So she had made a point recently to formally introduce the two and even drop a hint to Lee that she thought very highly of him. Unfortunately, he had yet to really understand what Sakura had meant- but she was still of the opinion that one day soon he would. After all, a woman can only put up with being ignored for so long before she went out of her way to be noticed; and Sakura was quite confident that Mina was a strong enough woman to succeed with the ever optimistic Lee.
But Lee's future love life had nothing to do with her.
In the end it came down to one thing. When Sakura thought about the future she did in fact see children. She also saw a husband that loved her and was as devoted to her as she was to him… But between the fact that there wasn't anyone she was currently interested in, and the fact that pretty much all the men in the village over 16 were either participating already or were the type that didn't want a family in the first place…
So, with only a little trepidation, Sakura had entered her name for the arranged marriages. Ideally none of the candidates would be a part of the choosing process of course, but with Tsunade dead Sakura was the most skilled medic-nin in Konoha- so that was that.
She wasn't sure if any of the others had been informed of her unique position, but she didn't want to risk their objectivity by telling them either. It was going to be bad enough already.
Sakura looked up at the clock across from her on the wall next to the large window.
The sun was streaming into the white room and fairly blinding the two occupants facing into it. They were all sitting at a round table and waiting (somewhat) patiently for the candidates' files, but she was not the only one annoyed.
No one in the room knew how many files to expect or even when they would get them. Already some of them had been sitting here for the better part of two hours. When the Rokudaime had told them that they would be expected Wednesday morning, most of them had assumed he meant eight am… Sakura had arrived at nine.
After another half hour of incredibly boring pen tapping Sakura was ready to rip the door off its hinges and go in search of the files herself; but just when she was starting to seriously consider it, the door opened and a member of the Council stepped inside along with two gennin- each carrying a stack of thick manila folders. The Council member (Komura wasn't it?) had them set their piles on the table and then dismissed them before closing the door and addressing the room.
"I know that I don't need to point out the importance and sensitivity of what you're doing here today, you're all here for both your competence and your trustworthiness."
Sakura vaguely wondered what civilian matchmakers could have done to win the council's trust, but said nothing.
"However I wanted to make a few things clear so there will be no confusion." He looked around the room, meeting each of their eyes in turn as he spoke, getting their undivided attention. "You will not be able to match everyone; we have eleven male candidates but only eight females. Also, though we do want as many matches as possible, if you cannot all agree on the match it will be thrown out. Under population may be an issue, but not as big of an issue as having stable environments for our future generations to grow up in."
The matchmakers were nodding their heads with small, agreeable smiles while the rest were listening intently.
"Additionally, you also know that these files do not include physical descriptions or names, but if you, for any reason believe you recognize one of the candidates," His eye stopped briefly on Sakura. "we ask that you keep the information to yourself and attempt to remain unbiased."
Sakura felt her heartbeat slow to a normal pace, no one else knew.
"Now, the files with red lettering on the outside are the females, and the ones with black lettering are the males. Please take your time in reading each file and in making your decisions, we will provide food at your request and we have set aside some rooms for you all to stay during your deliberation. Thank you." With a small bow he turned and walked out of the room.
For a moment no one could say a word they were so surprised. They weren't allowed to go home during this?
"What are we, a jury?" Sakura hadn't realized that she'd spoken until the room filled with light chuckles; she had effectively broken the tension.
Akemi turned to Sakura with a smile and said with mock severity, "We are here to decide the fate of Konoha Sakura, you should know better than to expect a comfortable bed to sleep in under such dire circumstances."
Sakura smiled and laughed for the first time that day, finally feeling some of her tension melt away. At least she was in this with some good people she respected.
"No Hiro-kun, the fact that number 5 has had a miscarriage before is not a good reason to dismiss her from the candidates. If she has agreed to this it means that she is ready to move on, also, didn't you read the circumstances of her pregnancy? She had an 'incident' while on a mission; it is entirely possible that she didn't want that pregnancy to begin with." Minori spoke with conviction and a fire in her eyes that threatened to burn the younger man across from her.
"That is exactly why she shouldn't be considered. The mental trauma from such an incident will make it much harder for her to connect emotionally to another male. By keeping her as a candidate we risk creating a match that will fall apart before they even get to the altar." His nostrils flared and his hands balled into fists on the table in front of him as he tried to keep from yelling.
"Hiro," He turned to his right at the light touch of Akemi's hand on his, these two were ones that had agreed to marry each other for the good of the village. "I think I'm going to have to agree with Minori on this one."
Akemi was calm and patient where Hiro was sometimes hot-headed and over enthusiastic and Sakura couldn't help but think that they would probably be quite happy together.
"It's true that incidents like the one number 5 went through can emotionally cripple some people, but her file also indicated that after a few months of counseling and in-village missions she was stable. There's even a side note that her counselor was not only impressed by the way she handled it, but her maturity at the situation." Her calm seemed to settle into him as she spoke, never letting go of his hand.
"He also said that she was still having trouble even approaching men she hadn't known half her life by the end of the sessions. I think that that is a clear indication of instability, at least for the purposes of an arranged marriage." Akemi shook her head and squeezed his hand in both of hers.
"There was also the note from her team leader, a very recent one that indicated a return to typical behavior around fellow shinobi as well as civilians. I know that it wasn't as detailed as the counselor's report, but I still think it's a good indication of her current stability."
"I don't know… can we be sure that she won't become unstable in the future?"
Sakura coughed lightly. "If I may Hiro-kun?" At his nod she continued. "There is no guarantee that there won't be some kind of relapse in the future, and we may need to worry about postpartum depression, but I don't think it's any more likely than a nin going rouge due to too many brutally bloody assignments. Physically number 5 is in her prime and in perfect health, I don't think any shinobi would be a one hundred percent bet mentally, but her ability to bounce back shows a strength of character that I find admirable. Isn't that enough?"
Sakura held his hard gaze for a long moment before he sighed and ran his hand through his short brown hair.
"Alright. Maybe I was being a little too critical, but I just don't want to make a mistake and fuck up two people's lives…"
The room was quiet as everyone took in his words, and then the spell was broken by Shiori's lilting voice. "It's a risk we take every time we match anyone, but what it really comes down to is trust. They have to trust that we are going to do our best to find them someone that they could conceivably spend the rest of their lives with, and we have to trust that they have come to us because they are ready- and nothing else. Right now you're worried that she's not ready but is trying to push herself out of duty to the village, but didn't the Hokage impress upon everyone that they really didn't have to do this? Is there anything in her file that suggests she would lie to herself about what she was ready to handle? Can you trust her?"
Hiro smiled faintly at the aging matchmaker, she was the oldest of them and perhaps the wisest.
"You're right Shiori-san. I don't think she would take on a challenge she couldn't handle. I trust her."
"Okay," Tama spoke up. "Let's vote, those in favor of keeping number 5 in the pool?" Every hand went up and he nodded, having expected nothing less. "Then I propose we take a short break before moving on to number 6, those in favor?" Again every hand went up, though with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm.
Sakura had known since the first day when Komura from the council of elders informed them that they would be staying here until they were finished, that this was going to be an arduous task, but even she had failed to anticipate how long it would all take.
The files on each of the candidates were extensive and it had taken the whole of two days for everyone to read through each of them. Sakura had been surprised when looking at her own file to realize just how accurate the files could be without giving away the identities of the candidate.
It included their IQ's, aptitude tests, likes and dislikes, favorite things and pet-peeves, the cleanliness of their rooms, the types of foods they ate, psychological profiles, comments from team leaders and colleagues, their complete (and she did mean complete) medical histories, and even a summary of their mission history. The council must have spent weeks putting this together!
After finally finishing getting through reading and taking notes about each candidate, they had moved on to disqualifying some of them from the pool altogether.
Number 11 was thrown out right away when Sakura pointed out that he was the carrier for a disease that would most likely kill any daughters he had by the time they were in their late twenties. And number 14 because he had attempted suicide on more than one occasion; and while he had been stable for the past three years by all accounts, they just couldn't take the risk.
Shiori had blackballed another male due to an altercation with a fellow shinobi over a woman the previous year saying, "A little jealousy is good, it stirs the blood and keeps you focused on keeping your partner happy, but too much can ruin a good family."
Then a woman had been disqualified because she had previously had an ovary removed due to ovarian cancer. Sakura had felt that it wasn't going to be an issue, but Tama had insisted that without more recent medical information on that problem specifically they could be arranging a marriage with a woman who would be unable to bear children at all. Which would be an issue since her file had indicated an unwillingness to adopt.
So in the end they had a pool of eight men and seven women to choose from.
At this point Minori and Shiori proved invaluable. They were quickly able to make a chart of who would suit who: "Number 5 is suitable for numbers 10, 15, or 19- but definitely not the others," etc…
Sakura, who was number 7, would be suitable for either 10 or 15; but the sisters were sure that number 7 was far too strong willed and intelligent to match well with someone too far below her level, and the rest, while not stupid, just wouldn't be able to 'handle' her.
She had been forced to call for a dinner break just to give herself enough time to cool her head before she exploded and gave away her position in her outrage… she did not need to be 'handled.'
At this point (day six) Sakura thought that they must be nearing the end, but was disillusioned of this idea twenty hours later when they had only managed to agree unanimously on one couple.
It was hard. Since each person had multiple people they would be well suited for, the committee had to decide which of the males each female was most compatible with and which female each male was the most compatible with. If the two matched up, bingo!
Unfortunately, that had only been true for one couple…
So personality compatibility percentages were calculated, and when that wasn't enough backgrounds were compared, and when that wasn't enough age and rank were discussed, and when that wasn't enough they looked at the genetics.
On day ten they had matched five couples and disqualified another woman because with the limited number of male candidates- there just wasn't one that would suit her enough to chance a marriage.
And what it came down to was number 7.
Numbers 10 and 15 were both still options, so things should have looked up- but they didn't. Number 10 just seemed too… nice? She couldn't imagine herself with a man who just wanted to be her doormat, she wanted a partner- someone who could challenge her and still back down when he was wrong…
Which was one of the reasons number 15 appealed to her, his IQ was only two points lower than hers (and since those things tended to fluctuate he was really on par with her), he was considered 'charming' by his peers, and he didn't seem to be the type to back down over a few ruffled feathers. But even prince charming had a couple of problems.
One was that he had a low sperm count. This didn't disqualify him as it was above their minimum, but it was a draw-back seeing as how the whole point of these marriages was to produce offspring. The other problem was that by admission and comments by his peers he was extremely preferential towards voluptuous women, and there was even speculation that he was a bit of a playboy.
It was part of the reason that he hadn't been matched with any of the other women, the sisters said that since they had no way of knowing what any of the women looked like they might be setting them up for failure since sexual chemistry was still an important part of marriage- and one that they couldn't determine for them.
Some of the others were leaning toward number 10, but Shiori thought that maybe number 7 was another candidate for disqualification. Sakura was not pleased. She hadn't entered her name into this just to be disqualified do to men being unable to 'handle' her.
Sakura knew that she was letting herself be bias, but she couldn't help herself. She still wanted her future family, and she didn't want to marry a civilian to get it. Because, though she had nothing against civilians in general (and even had many civilian friends), she found the idea of being married to one boring. There was just something about knowing she could crush someone with her pinkie finger alone that she found completely unappealing.
Pushing back from the table and standing with the intention to go for a short walk around the hall to clear her head, Sakura knocked her notebook onto the floor and bent to pick it up with a sigh. It had flipped open toward the beginning of the men's section- to the first man they had disqualified.
Sakura intended to close the notebook, give up on participating in the program, and convincing the rest of the committee that number 10 wasn't a good choice after all. But as she stood there she couldn't help skimming her notes, her eyes catching on key phrases.
High IQ, exemplary jounin, well liked by peers, love of animals… and at the bottom of the page circled multiple times, HGC- the disease he was a carrier for.
Suddenly the wheels of her mind started cranking, she'd overlooked something.
"Tama," She barely registered that she had just interrupted the conversation, too excited to be possibly solving a puzzle that had been bothering her for days. When he turned to look into her overly bright eyes she started again before she could lose the thread of her thoughts. "Tama, could you pull out number 7's genetic chart quick?"
He gave her a bit of a weird look, but knew her well enough to pull out the detailed genetic disposition chart that had come with the file and laid it on the table in front of her. She looked at the sheet and studied it carefully, if she was right…
"Jeez, how did I miss that the first time?" She smiled triumphantly and looked back up to meet the eyes of the rest of the committee, unable to hold back a giggle at her success. "Number 11, the one we disqualified due to him being a carrier for HGC disease? I'm… I figured out that number 7's immune. She's got a specific genetic disposition that makes her incapable of passing on the disease to her children!"
Around the table Tama was the only one not staring at her like she had just sprung a second head- and that because he was too busy looking at the chart to verify what she had just said.
For most of the last ten days Sakura had been rather quiet- still voicing opinions and facts, but never really excitable. And for people who had only really known her for the last ten days this outburst seemed out of character, but no one could bring themselves to interrupt her.
"Minori-san, Shiori-san, could you make a chart for numbers 7 and 11?" The women nodded almost numbly before shaking it off and hurrying to do as she requested. Sakura had already moved on though. "Akemi-san, can you figure out the personality percentages? Oh, and Hiro-kun, could you compare their backgrounds?" And just like that everyone was busy.
Sakura could barely contain herself, she was so excited that she had solved a puzzle, found a third option for number 7, and quite probably brought their stay here to an end, finally.
Half an hour later everyone was ready. In the end it only took them minutes to decide: Personality compatibility 92%, backgrounds similar enough to give them a lot in common- without completely taking away the sense of mystery, great genetic compatibility, and the sisters' full stamp of approval.
Number 7 would be arranged to marry number 11.
It wasn't until hours later, from the comfort of her own bed, that she re-remembered that she was number 7, and she had just become engaged to a man she very well may have never met before.
Kakashi fidgeted nervously with his shirt cuff as he entered Momiji's; the restaurant that had been chosen by the matchmaking sisters as the place for the six couples to meet for the first time. They had chosen it because Momiji's offered more privacy than any other restaurant in the village; it had no open dining room, but a number of enclosed rooms.
He wasn't sure that it wasn't a better idea to meet somewhere more public considering… but the village had rented out the restaurant for the night and Kakashi had never been one to skip out on a free meal.
The décor was all hard wood and lush reds, with accents in black and dark blue. Obviously it was designed to cater to rich patrons who needed privacy for their assignations, but Kakashi didn't hate it. There was something to be said for dimly lit rooms and candle light.
As he walked up to the podium, situated before the entrance, the maitre d' snapped to attention. "Hokage-sama, what can I do for you today?"
Kakashi knew that this man knew what was going on, but the man's professional smile hid any thoughts he had on the matter and Kakashi was impressed despite himself.
"I'm supposed to be meeting someone…" He quickly pulled out a card from his pants pocket and handed the reservation ticket over. "I believe we're in room 3?"
The man took the card and bowed. "Of course Hokage-sama, your companion has already arrived. Let me show you the way."
Sakura had arrived fifteen minutes early to ensure that she would be the first one there. Having gone on no real dates before and few things that could even resemble one, she had almost no idea what she was doing.
She had even turned herself over to Ino's tender mercies for getting ready… She knew she looked nice, but then the question became did she look too nice? This was a first meeting and she couldn't decide if she felt that she should have worn something more traditionally formal or something more natural so he could see the 'real' her. Certainly what she was wearing was wrong though.
Ino had curled her hair and pinned it up to fall in small cascades at the back of her head with just a couple of curls loose to frame her face. For make-up she had done a touch of kohl eyeliner and mascara with just a hint of red lip gloss. The dress itself was a backless, crimson silk halter that fell to her knees; and her shoes were strappy little red heels that wrapped around her ankles.
Overall, she felt beautiful, but overly sexualized. But when she had tried to argue about it Ino had pointed out that that was the whole point to dressing up- to show them what they could have if they played their cards right.
So in the end Sakura had taken Ino's advice, and she still didn't know how she felt about it.
And then the door opened.
There had been few moments in Sakura's adult life that had left her sputtering and feeling like a complete idiot. One had been when Ino had informed her that chakra could be used for more than hurting or healing, but for more pleasurable things as well (she couldn't believe she hadn't thought of it!). Another had been when Naruto had woken from his coma and told her not to worry about him being angry about the whole Hokage thing; Nanadaime would suit him just fine (he'd remembered everything she'd told him while in the coma?).
But this really took the cake.
In the doorway to her little private dining room stood one Hatake Kakashi, looking no more ruffled than if she had suddenly announced that chocolate was the world's best invention (utter common sense). In fact, she didn't think she'd ever seen him looking less ruffled.
He was wearing a button down black shirt with black dress pants, and were those really… yes they were- dress shoes! The only things he was wearing that were part of his normal attire were his black mask and hitai-ate; and even though his hair was in its usual silver spikes it had obviously been brushed!
What. The. Hell!
Standing, because she didn't know what the hell else to do, Sakura didn't even notice as the door quietly clicked shut leaving them alone. "Kakashi?" Her voice came out in a choked squeak and she suddenly wished she could melt into the floor and disappear.
For his own part Kakashi simply smiled his usual eye crease and gave a little two fingered wave. "Yo."
Sakura stared at him for about thirty seconds before fairly collapsing back into her chair and staring forward. After a moment her view of the opposing wall was obscured as Kakashi settled into the seat across from her.
She studied him without comprehension for several long minutes as she tried to gather her shattered thoughts, and even then she could only think of one thing to say.
"You knew it was me, didn't you?"
Kakashi smiled again. "Of course." He opened his eye and gauged her expression. "I am the Hokage Sakura; I was the first person to learn who was matched with who after the council had put names back on the files. Speaking of which…"
He paused long enough to pull a small scroll out of his pocket and place it in front of her. "That's both my file and your own, along with any other information the committee submitted concerning the match."
Sakura was dumbfounded, what was he… "What are you…?"
Kakashi's smile widened. "You were a part of the committee, so I won't be breaking confidentiality and you won't be learning anything new; but I thought that you might want these while you were making your decision."
"My decision?" Sakura felt like the wind had been knocked out of her, her responses were slow and miles behind the thousand questions whirling through her mind.
Kakashi studied her intently now, using her reactions to help him gauge what he was trying to say. "I knew exactly what I was getting into when I submitted my name. I knew whose names were on the list, and I knew that there were only three real matches possible for me- no one would match an eighteen year old chuunin with a veteran like me. So, unlike you, I had a clear view of what I was getting myself into and I submitted my name anyway."
Sakura's thoughts finally caught up with her mouth and her eyes focused on his with sharp clarity. "The council would have roasted you alive if you didn't participate in one way or another, someone had to set the good example for the rest of the shinobi. I'm not stupid Kakashi; if you had actually wanted to participate in the new program you would have had a line out the door of women willing to marry the Hokage. You would have had your pick of the village."
"So I could be accused of playing favorites, and condemn my chosen partner to horrible tormenting by the rest of the female populace? No." Kakashi shook his head in mock sorrow and Sakura rolled her eyes at his attempt to side step the question, but let him get away with it regardless. After all, she was used to letting such things go with him- and this little bit of normalcy was comforting.
After a minute though Kakashi cleared his throat, looking almost concerned as he continued. "… I didn't need to submit my name you know. Despite all the council's tripe about a Hokage's responsibility to set a good example, I wouldn't have if I didn't believe it was possible to make this work."
Sakura couldn't think, her mind was a blank slate without any chalk.
And then he smiled- a real smile.
A smile that said a lot more than she had known a smile could when you couldn't even see half his face.
The corners of her mouth curled up in a lop-sided smile, she couldn't help it- this was Kakashi. A man who had and would protect her with his life, a man who would smile at her when the world was falling apart, who would promise that everything would be alright and then find a way to make it true.
If there was anyone she would feel comfortable attempting this awkward situation with, it was him.
Kakashi raised his eyebrow at her ambiguous reply. "Okay?"
She nodded. "Okay, I'll consider it."
Kakashi smiled again and Sakura felt like whatever happened- everything would be alright.
And then, before she could say anything else, he took down his mask to take a drink of water; leaving the fabric pooled around his throat when he set the glass down.
Sakura was blushing at least three shades of red, and the quirked smile at the corner of his mouth wasn't helping anything. "Sakura?" She tore her gaze away from his perfect mouth to look back into his eye. "I meant to tell you, you look lovely tonight."
Had she thought she couldn't blush any harder? She had been wrong.
Kakashi couldn't help but smile, the way Sakura's eyes had dilated and her breathing hitched at the sight of his face had pleased him.
Despite the numerous rumors going around Konoha about both his prowess and his looks, only a fraction of them had even a hint of the truth to them. In actuality Kakashi hadn't been with a woman in a little over three years. And considering how good Sakura looked in the delectable bit of silk she was wearing… Well, as a man, he couldn't help feeling at least a hint of pleasure that his perspective bride would easily earn him the jealousy of (a minimum of) half the village's male population.
He had had his doubts that this wouldn't be awkward, but they hadn't been on the same team since Sakura had become a tokubetsu-jounin when she was 17- and neither of them were exactly the same people they had been eight years ago. Sakura had worked hard in the hospital and on the field, and he had fought in the war on the front lines before taking over as Hokage. Both of them had lost loved ones, saved countless lives, and played a hand or two in the rebuilding of Konoha (both literally and figuratively). So he had dismissed the worry and decided to simply work for their future.
The fact that neither of them had seen each other in anything other than work clothing, met up outside of business meetings, or had a non-work-related conversation in years only helped things. After the first few awkward minutes they had been able to treat each other the way you would normally treat an omiai partner. As someone you might know a little bit about, but whom you would wish to know more about before stepping up to the altar.
Sakura laughed at his stories about the antics of the newest gennin, and she enthralled him with the details of her last mission outside the village (all the details she hadn't felt the need to include in her official report). Kakashi kept his mask down, laughed at her quips, and made her smile gently at his story about meeting his gennin team for the first time. Before either of them knew it their candles were melted down to the nub and their dinner had been over for hours.
Kakashi laughed as he scratched the back of his neck and Sakura blushed as she twisted her hands in her lap, but after a moment she looked up into his eye again. "This was really… more than I had expected."
The smile that spread across his lips was soft and genuine. "Yes, it really was."
Standing, Kakashi held out his hand to help her stand and she accepted it, tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow as they walked down the hallway and outside the restaurant. For a moment they stood still, enjoying the warm evening but unsure where to go from here.
"Would you like to have lunch with me tomorrow?"
Sakura looked at Kakashi in surprise. "Lunch?"
Mask once again in place, he smiled his usual eye crinkle. "I do believe you're entitled to an hour lunch despite your busy schedule at the hospital, yes?"
She beamed at him with affection. "Of course, in your office?"
"Ah," Kakashi scratched the back of his head with just a hint of embarrassment "I don't usually take my mask down in public."
Sakura laughed as she punched his arm lightly. "Scared of all the fan-girls you would attract?"
Kakashi nodded solemnly. "I couldn't do that to my perspective bride could I? They'd be after you in an instant."
Sakura's breath caught in her throat at the words 'perspective bride.' "I suppose I am aren't I?"
"Your 'perspective bride'…" A smile lit her features as she turned to look him full in the face again. "And I guess that makes you my 'perspective groom,' doesn't it?"
Kakashi laughed a little awkwardly. "That does sound a little strange…" For a long moment they just looked at each other, smiling; but then (without any real conscious thought), Kakashi raised his hand and gently caressed her cheek. Sakura couldn't help but close her eyes and lean into his touch, and for a moment time stopped.
When Sakura opened her eyes she looked into his hooded expression and knew. "Yes."
The word was whispered and breathy, sending tingles up Kakashi's arm from where his hand was still touching her face. "Yes?"
Sakura smiled mischievously as she took a hold of his hand that was touching her cheek and planted a kiss in the palm- knocking the breath from his lungs. "Yes, I will have lunch with you tomorrow." Then in a flurry of sakura petals, she was gone.
For a moment he was stunned, and then he couldn't stop himself from laughing. Sakura had taken a page from his own book and left in a flurry without warning. And as he turned and began walking back to the Hokage residence he couldn't help thinking that Sakura had become so much… more than he had ever expected.
This 'settling' thing wouldn't be so bad after all.
So I haven't fully decided whether to continue this story or not. On the one hand, all the important parts of the story I had in mind have already happened; but on the other- this little fluff train makes me quite pleased with myself. I don't know, maybe, maybe not. What do you think? ^_^v