Sakura turned the knob of the microscope as she peered through the lens. The colorful cell lit up in the background light, betraying that they had been contaminated with a virus. She noted the slight difference in its properties; it had been oblong the last time she had viewed it a few days ago. The virus had evolved once more, relinquishing its potency in favor of quick subjugation of the host cell. She sighed as she looked up from the microscope. They would have to try a new tactic in fighting back the virus. Sakura had received this strain from Iron Country; they often discovered the next evolution of the plague since that was where it originated. It was fortunate that the countries had settled their differences. The peacetime allowed them to keep an epidemic at bay.
Sakura's thoughts were broken by a rapping on the door. She looked up to see Sachi standing at the window that peered into her laboratory from the hall. Sakura walked over to the door of her laboratory and stepped out. "What?"
"The Hokage is requesting your presence. Again." She rolled her eyes. "Do you even work here anymore or are you just milking of your connections to have all of your afternoons off?"
Sakura tugged down the mask covering her mouth. "At least I don't sneak off to the hospital closet and make out with the male staff when I'm on the clock."
Sachi's face turned red. "I don't do that."
"Everyone can hear you snuffling in the closet." Sakura scowled. "You sound like an undignified moose."
Sachi sneered at Sakura before she flipped her hair and walked away. Sakura laughed to herself as she saw Sachi stomp down the hallway. She went back to her laboratory and began to tidy things up, picking up her slides and carefully putting them back in their place. She had only an hour left before she would call it a day, so there was no point in coming back. By the time she finished talking to Kakashi it would be time for her to have dinner with Norio.
She smiled to herself as she climbed up the many steps to reach the main hospital. She was fortunate that Norio had come to visit her this week. Clearly she had grown fond of him over the week, for what other reason would she feel so light? She gave a cheerful wave to the nurse at the front desk and stepped outside. The unexpected feeling of happiness continued and she hummed on her way to Hokage Tower.
She arrived at Kakashi's office, placing her bag near the doorway. He was standing with both palms on the surface of his desk and leaning over. Gravity forced his hair down and Sakura had the urge to tug at it with her hands and to feel the coarse strands of his hair. Then he would look up at her, tug his mask down, and she would see the faint scar above his lip as he smiled. That pleasant feeling bubbled inside of her, and it was then that Sakura noticed she was fantasizing. The revelation caught her by surprise and Sakura paused mid-step. Kakashi noticed her presence and looked up to smile at her.
The pleasure inside of Sakura intensified. Oh no.
"W-what are you doing?" Sakura stammered. She took a deep breath to quell the emotion inside of her, refusing to acknowledge it. Instead, she threw her concentration on the large map spread out on his desk. She could see trade routes and dates scribbled upon its surface, the oldest of which was three years ago.
"I was double checking a bit of information. I was making certain that the timeline was consistent with my thoughts. But you don't need to worry about it. Not right now anyway." He gave her another smile and Sakura wondered why her hands felt so sweaty.
"What did you need?" She plopped herself in the chair and rubbed her hands on the armrests to get rid of the perspiration.
"I wanted to ask you about the timeline about some of the antibiotics. I've contacted the villages in the area and you should be getting a response on their needs soon enough. However, I'm uncertain about the logistics of when to send the medics out."
"Why didn't you ask me?" she said with a frown. "I've been here almost every day this week.
Kakashi gave her a cold look. "I would have asked you, but every time you came into my office it was obvious that you weren't present."
"I don't understand what you mean."
"It means there was a woman who looked like you and smelled like you, but she did not sound or act like you."
Sakura bit her lip to hide her smile at his strange observation. Her traitorous mind noticed that Kakashi didn't say anything about taste. She laughed in embarrassment. How would he know?
Kakashi's head tilted the side. "Ah, there it is," he said softly.
"What?" Sakura held a hand to her face as if in self-consciousness. "Did I do something wrong?"
He shook his head. "I like that laugh. It's much better than whatever terrible noise you have been emitting while you're with Norio."
She sputtered with indignation. "I do not change my laugh."
"Oh, but you do," he said as he leaned closer to her, his eyes holding her captive. "It's high pitched and shrill. Why, I'm surprised you haven't summoned a giant bat to you."
Kakashi saw her pout unhappily, but she had not tried to smack him. There was a rap on the door and before Kakashi could say anything else, it opened.
Kakashi knew that something was wrong the moment Norio appeared. Every day that he had been in Konoha, Kakashi had seen a broad smile on Norio's face. It was absent this time around, and Kakashi's concern grew as his cousin crossed the room. Most nobles walked across the room with bravado, a gait carved from a pampered lifestyle and entitlement. The Ehime family was largely absent of this feeling of entitlement, aware that their power had its limitations. But Norio walked in with an aggressive swagger that indicated his need to establish himself as an Alpha.
Unfortunately, for Norio, there were already two Alphas in the room.
"Who is Tooru?" Norio demanded.
Kakashi glanced at Sakura, expecting a strained smile as she humored his attitude once more. He had not expected the stony expression that shuttered across her face or the rigid tension in her shoulders. Her soft smile had disappeared.
"I… Where did you hear that name?" she replied.
"You did not answer my question."
"I have my reasons for not answering the question. Where did you hear that name ?"
"You acknowledge your evasion, and yet still pose your own?" Norio ground out in frustration.
Kakashi's head swung back and forth as he observed their argument. As much as had hoped for the movement where their personalities would collide, there was something off. Norio was stubborn and expected things to go his way because of his noble standing. It was the way it had always been, and it was the reason that Norio had disliked Kakashi when they were younger. It was a good decade before Norio learned the truth and they were cordial to one another.
Norio had seen little of Sakura's own stubbornness, and did not know the only way to win an argument was to be more patient than her. Challenging her directly always led to unpleasant results. Anger was a motivation she could use to her advantage and already Kakashi could see the telltale signs of annoyance on her face. Her lips were pressed together and she was biting the inside of her cheek. But it was her eyes that had Kakashi concerned. They were hard and unyielding when they should have been burning with fire. Repression did not suit Sakura.
Kakashi knew both of them too well and this was not the confrontation he had been expecting. There was something unpleasant in the air and once again Kakashi was baffled by its true meaning. And on top of it all, he was eager to hear the answer to Norio's question.
"You don't need to worry about Tooru," Sakura snapped.
"I should think I do. I spoke to Masaru, and he mentioned the name. At first, I was leery of his words, for why should I listen to the diatribes of your former lover, a man who was unworthy of you?" Norio shook his head. "But all he wished was for Fire Country to remain strong and that my life is not tainted by the lies of a woman. He told me of the attributes that he most enjoyed about you, your smile, and your kind manner. These were the things that were reflected in my own heart.
"And then he told me of the mission when you failed to rescue him. He told me of how you embraced the traitorous Uchiha and failed to attend to Masaru's wounds. He spoke of that night when you arrived back in Konoha and how you fell asleep on his couch. And then he told me how you called out Tooru's name in the middle of the night and refused to say who he was." Norio's lip curled in displeasure.
"I recognized the name from somewhere and it took me a day to remember." Norio's voice turned bitter. "You said his name in your sleep during the journey to Snow Country. I asked Yori to see if there was a Tooru on our journey and he said that there was not. I had nearly forgotten about it, but now it is coming out that you keep his name in your dreams and heart. Who is he?"
The tension in the room was like electricity and Kakashi leaned in as curiosity nipped at his heels.
Sakura stood out of her seat and sent it skidding on the floor. "I said you don't need to worry about him! Drop the subject!"
"I disagree. It is important to know if my betrothed is actually the village harlot!"
"Norio," Kakashi snapped, "that was too far." He was surprised that Norio's verbal attack had yet to cause a scene of violence.
"Stay out of this, Kakashi," Norio said, as if he was fully aware of the third person in the room for the first time.
Kakashi turned to look at Sakura. He could see that her hands were clenched in anger. When she looked at him, he was surprised to see that they were a bit watery. "You should go, Kakashi," she said in a strained voice.
"Are you certain?" he asked her, more concerned about Norio's health than her own. She gave a stiff nod and he heard Norio grunt in irritation. Outnumbered, he made his way out of the office. "Don't say anything stupid," he said to Norio as he passed him.
It was moot advice; people like Norio believed that they were free to do or say whatever they wished. Not to mention he had already sown some pretty idiotic seeds. Kakashi had not even shut the door properly before Sakura started shouting.
Pausing, Kakashi noticed he could still hear the muffled thumps as something was tossed about in the room. His mind was burning with curiosity, but he knew only a fool would enter the room at the moment. He made his way outside to the benches that were placed along the Hokage Mountain. He pulled out his copy of Icha Icha Tactics and began to read. It was unfortunate that the pair had chosen his office to conduct their fight, but there was little he could do about it.
Ten minutes later, he was disturbed from his reading by a loud crash. He stood up in time to see the ugly boulder from Earth Country soar out the window and onto the garden behind him. Seconds later, he saw Sakura leap out of the wind and jumped away on the rooftops. Kakashi snapped his book shut and made his way to the garden where the boulder now sat. He nodded his head as looked at the rock.
"What do you think if we put a little garden here?" He questioned the ANBU guard standing nearby. "I think it would be a good place to meditate in the morning."
The ANBU guard stuttered, "I suppose so."
Kakashi frowned; he wasn't able to place the voice. It must be someone new. Perhaps Lee needed a little break after the debacle with the mob the other night. He was going to ask the guard a few more innocent questions but then he heard the door open. Kakashi turned to see Norio striding his direction with disheveled hair and a red face.
"The wedding is off," Norio snarled.
Kakashi turned back to look at the boulder, keeping his face impassive. If Norio caught a whiff of Kakashi's eagerness, the wedding would be back on before he could say "shotgun."
"What happened?" He questioned, tucking Tactics back into its rightful pocket.
"That woman is a terror. She is the most spiteful person that I have ever had the opportunity to meet."
Kakashi frowned in dismay. Has Norio ever had a proper conversation with a kunoichi? Most of them would not have taken the indulgent tones he spoke in as long as Sakura had. "I wouldn't say that."
"You have not seen her temper." Norio brushed at his clothes, straightening out nonexistent wrinkles. "She threw things at me, can you imagine?"
Kakashi could do more than imagine, as he had experienced Sakura's temper on more than one occasion. Yet, he remained unimpressed by Norio's protestations. "You disrespected her wish to drop the subject," he said with a sigh.
Norio's hand stopped patting his clothes. "Are you suggesting that this is my fault?"
"Sakura wields a tight control on her emotions," Kakashi explained. "Her actions are a reflection of her feelings. If she threw things at you, it is because you hurt her and she desires to hurt you back." He bit his tongue in his annoyance, irritated that such a plain fact of Sakura's personality had to be explained.
"She could have injured me!"
"She would have injured you if she aimed for you. But Sakura missed on purpose. She will calm down soon enough and you can apologize to her."
Norio scoffed. "I will not do anything of the sort. I had every right to interrogate her and she responded childishly. The wedding is off." Norio straightened his posture.
"Are you certain?"
"I have no more business to attend to in this village and will be departing in the next hour. I have already sent word to have my bags packed and the horse is being prepared as we speak." Norio crossed his arms in front of him, but Kakashi could see the disappointment in his eyes.
"This is rather abrupt." Kakashi didn't like the idea of the relationship being cut off in such a manner. He had hoped that she would call of the wedding, to reaffirm her own self-esteem and free herself from the shackles of an unneeded marriage. This development would leave her as the vulnerable party and Kakashi would have to deal with the fallout of Sakura's emotions.
"Perhaps. However, such nonsense will not be tolerated. It is barbaric and unsuited to be my lady."
" Barbaric?" Kakashi was unable to keep the irritation out of his voice. "All you have been talking about this week was how sweet and delicate she was. It was sickening."
The stern look on Norio's face faltered and Kakashi could see a genuine trace of remorse. They stood in awkward silence and Norio shuffled on his feet. Kakashi paid little attention to the nervous movement, once again practicing his tactic of patience. Finally, Norio relented.
"Tomio told me before I left that I should be certain that Sakura was a suitable partner before I left. He has harbored doubts since he first met her, but I had not paid them any credence. But she will be the woman for the rest of my life, Kakashi. She will have to conform into my world, and she will have to know her place. And if I cannot get her to answer a simple question, how am I supposed to have her willingly trade her entire world for mine?"
Norio turned to look down at Konoha, his hands resting on the guard rail. "If she apologizes to me, then she is the woman I believe her to be. If she does not, then it is for the best that the wedding is off." His hand wavered as he rubbed at his forehead. "She knows where to find me when she wishes to apologize."
Norio nodded at Kakashi and made his way down the steps, presumably to check on his horse. Kakashi turned to the ANBU guard. "Care to share some bad news with an angry kunoichi?"
There was a pause. "I'd rather not, Hokage-sama."
He sighed. "Give her two hours to cool off, and then search for her. When you have found her location, report back to me. I suppose that it's best if I share the news with her myself."
Kakashi went back up the steps and saw several nervous ninja huddled around the hallway. They parted before him, and Kakashi entered the office to see if it had been demolished. Most of the glass figurines that had been given to him as gifts were smashed on the floor. The large window was shattered when Sakura tossed the boulder. One of his chairs was broken, and the largest metal fan given to him by Suna was bent in half.
Shaking his head, he picked up the map he had set aside and left for his bedroom. He would let some of his peons take care of the mess.
He would have been able to find her even without the ANBU's report. She had fled straight for the training grounds and remnants of her destruction were everywhere. Kakashi passed several tree limbs, massive gouges in trunks, and there was still plenty of dust in the air where her fist met the earth. He found her sitting on a large jagged chunk of ear that jutted out from the ground.
He saw her head twist in his direction, but the curtain of hair in front of her eyes prevented his view of her face.
He climbed up the rock to stand next to her, careful to remain a respectable distance.
"Your display of anger didn't go over too well with Norio. He wasn't too pleased."
"Yeah, I didn't…" Her voice came out raspy. "I'll apologize to him tomorrow. I should probably tell him, but I'm…" He heard her sniffle between pauses. "I don't feel up to apologizing today."
"Sakura, Norio left." He hated that he was the one to deliver the news but no one else knew them as he did.
"What?!" Sakura turned to him fully as she scrambled to her feet. "Why?"
"He doesn't like being told no. That's the way it is with nobles, even the tolerable ones like Norio." Kakashi hesitated with the last bit of news; the urge to keep quiet was overwhelming. But Sakura was more important than his own jealous thoughts.
"He called off the wedding, but if you go after him, I am certain he will take you back. He can't be too far away yet."
She stared at him, enough to make him grow uncomfortable with the attention. "Why are you telling me this? Don't you want to keep me for yourself?"
Kakashi broke his gaze with her, looking at a cracked tree truck a short distance away. "I want you to be happy. If he makes you happy, you should go after him."
She gave a watery laugh, crossing her arms as she held herself. "But I'm not. I'm not happy at all." She shook her head. "And shouldn't he be the one chasing me?" she asked as she tried to inject a bit of levity in her voice. But the attempt fell flat because Kakashi could see the tears at the edges of her eyes.
Kakashi cursed his idiocy. He had six specially made pockets courtesy of Ms. Tokushima and not a single one of them had a handkerchief. Weapons, scrolls and copies of Icha Icha were useless to him right now. He reached up to untie the black cloth around his left eye that hid the now dormant Sharingan.
"I'm afraid this is the best I have," he said as he handed it over to her.
She wrapped the cloth around her knuckles as she dapped at the tears in her eyes. Sakura paused to stare at the cloth in wonderment, her mouth parting slightly. She stepped closer to him and her hand rose to touch the scar around his eye, the thumb brushed along his mask-covered lips. Sakura lowered her gaze, balling the cloth in her hand.
"Please," she whispered. "I need someone."
Kakashi's heart sank with her words, disappointed that his presence was so easily replaceable with anyone else. But he did not protest when Sakura pressed herself against him, her hands clinging to his vest. He wrapped his arms around her as she began to sob.
And when she began to shake, he only held her tighter.
Visitors were frequent to the bar; the village was located along one of the main routes through Grass Country. Most of the people who gathered there were farmers, there for a bit of gossip after a long day in the fields. It was a dim and rickety building, but that's the way everything was in the village. But it had a fair amount of strangers, their faces and accents foreign to the region. No one ever asked for names in the village, too many dangerous travelers came through to make it a safe practice. Names meant reputations earned with spilled blood of bounties and death. It was safer to turn a blind eye and be cordial.
One of the local men cast his eye in the direction of two females who entered. They were pretty, with the kind of bodies that spoke of a civilian life rather than a ninja. Still, one could never know for sure, and when the women noticed him staring, the farmer gave a polite nod and went back to his business.
"He was looking at you," the blonde whispered to her friend. "You should go say hello to him."
"I don't know," whispered the other. "What happens if he was just being nice?"
"Then go be nice back," the blonde said with the waggle of her eyebrows as she pulled out a stool at the front of the bar. Her friend sat next to her, a pout on her face. "You're just disappointed because you didn't get to see the Hokage."
The other girl blushed. "I am not," she said in a faint whisper. "And even if I saw the Hokage, there is no guarantee that anything would have come from it."
"Doesn't change the fact his page of the Bingo book has been taped on the wall of your room since you were twelve."
"Excuse me," said a male voice. "I couldn't help but overhear, but you said something about the Hokage? The last I heard, it was the Sannin, Tsunade and not a male. Am I to understand that the post had been given to someone else?"
The blonde woman turned to the stranger next to her. "O-oh, yuh-yes." She found herself stuttering as she saw the handsome man next to her. "I'm surprised that you haven't heard about it. All the villages have been talking about the big news."
The man smiled. "Pardon. I have been ill as of late, and have not been able to leave my home. I was on my way to visit my sister and this is the first I have heard of it."
"Oh you poor thing! I hope you are feeling better."
"Quite. And who is the new Hokage of Konoha?"
"Kakashi Hatake, the Ninja of the Sharingan," piped up the timid woman. The man turned his eyes to her and she flushed and went back to staring at her cup.
"Kakashi," said the man, his mouth savoring each syllable as he mulled in his thoughts. "You have been quite helpful." He stood out of his seat and made his way to the exit, leaving behind his glass of water.
"Oh wow, did you see his eyes?" the blonde asked her friend.
"No," replied her friend, still thinking about the face being carved onto Hokage Mountain.
"I've never seen anything like them; they were red and swirly." She sighed. "I could have stared into his eyes for years ."