Kakashi was bound by a trap of his own creation.
Looking back, he could pinpoint its origin with the precision of an expertly thrown kunai. After all, hindsight was everything.
Between the sounds of determination fading to tears and the chirping of supernatural voltage, the jounin had felt the foundation give way under his feet. His team had fractured in less than the blink of an eye as circumstance felt the need to pit student against former student in a dance of death. Only one had the true resolve for it.
And he had been unable to stop it.
The memory of the incident still held bitter weight.
More than that, his lack of foresight as their sensei had contributed to the tangled mess of violence, the dark intent of the former friend turned enemy slowly leaching the color from her face. Kakashi had spent too much time teaching the Uchiha lethal skills, blinded by his sorrow over another of that clan's members, while choosing to ignore the breaches in Sasuke's character that hinted at inevitable misuse. But even worse than that indiscretion had been his inattention to teach her anything of value at all. Sakura hadn't been ready protect herself, not physically or emotionally, and at the root of that, Kakashi knew he was to blame.
Naruto's actions that day, his unpredictable arrival snatching the girl from the hand of death, saved Kakashi a lifetime of sorrow.
He briefly thought back to a time even further back in the past when that jutsu had also been used to pierce through the heart of a comrade. That time there had been no flash of yellow to save the day. But Kakashi's teammate had already been dead, just a shell held together by an invader's chakra, so his action held no malice, only mourning. The contrast provided little comfort, but Kakashi grasped onto it anyway.
It did not spare him the guilt.
After that incident, Kakashi had developed a habit of watching over her whenever they were both in the village, though keeping out of sight and hearing range, just to see how Sakura was faring. The man told himself it was because he was worried about her. The truth of the matter was that it soothed the ache of self-reproach in his chest to know that he was doing something, anything, for her. If the only thing he could become to her was a guardian spirit, so be it. He had forfeited the right to be her sensei long ago anyway.
In any case, the girl had been through a traumatic experience, the effects reinforced by the feelings that she had nurtured for years, and needed someone to look out for her. But all attempts at compassion or consideration by her friends had been rebuffed or redirected. The words, I'm fine, were ever at the tip of her tongue and her manner remained friendly and natural. Her work at the hospital and on the mission field excelled. Eventually everyone took her at her word, unaware of the barrier she had erected between herself and them. But he could see it, the way the memory engulfed her like the black flames of Amaterasu, ever gnawing and burning, and he knew that she was desperate to keep that darkness from spreading.
Kakashi never approached her. That same darkness resided in him so it was pointless to offer his help. He just kept vigil from the shadows as the nightly tears leached the color from her heart as effectively as the threat of death had taken it from her face that day. And he prayed for someone to stop up that gaping hole and reapply the dye.
Sakura was never meant to be monochrome.
Kakashi watched as the girl passed through all the various stages of grief, struggling to reconcile the lies she had bought with the truth that her teammate was truly gone, and was grateful when she finally reached acceptance. If Sasuke's path remained constant, their next encounter would end in someone's death, barring some kind of miracle. Of this the jounin was certain. Unfortunately, the only miracle worker he knew had run out of magic where the Uchiha was concerned and was unlikely to obtain more enchantment in the future.
It wasn't like Kakashi believed in miracles anyway.
Naruto seemed to have also recognized the change in Sakura. For a short while he had left Sakura to her own devices, giving her the bubble of space she seemed to so badly need, but the knucklehead burst back into her life with a liveliness that only he could manage. The two began to meet up daily, sometimes to train, other times to visit Ichiraku's, and it seemed to do the kunoichi much good. The strengthening of that friendship built up her heart. Her nights became more restful as her crying gradually became infrequent. Sakura had gained a new interest in being alive, the flames of betrayal slowly dying out, and she began to let those she loved most close to her again. Sakura was back on her feet. Relieved, Kakashi stopped shadowing her. She would be fine in Naruto's company.
And besides, the jounin was starting to feel like a stalker, despite his good intentions.
It was merely by accident that Kakashi ran across her a couple of months later. Nostalgia had prompted him to visit the ramen shop upon returning to the village from a patrol mission and she had been sitting at the counter when he arrived. She was obviously waiting for someone, fidgeting and absently tapping her fingers, but she invited him to sit down next to her. Not wanting to offend, lest he cause her emotional pain that she visit back on him physically, he readily complied. Over the course of their small talk, he noticed that the circles that had been receding when last he saw her were darker than ever and her hands were in rough shape, like she had been overworking herself on a regular basis. And when Naruto finally arrived, with the young Hyuuga heiress in tow, the flash of pain on Sakura's face was quickly replaced by a dazzling, artificial smile. Kakashi frowned behind his mask. Leaving Sakura to her own devices had been a mistake.
She always fell in love with the ones that couldn't love her back.
Kakashi renewed his observation of his former student. It pained him to see her heart go through another bout of betrayal - the tears, the listlessness, the disappointment eating away at her from the inside out. But she put on a brave façade and Sakura was strong, more so than people gave her credit for. The girl soldiered through her funk much more quickly than she had when Sasuke had broken her to pieces. Even she, with her vision blurred by her erratic emotions, could see that unlike the Uchiha, Naruto did love her. It just wasn't the type of love she had been hoping for. And when Sakura was able to forgive Naruto for that, Kakashi was glad.
Maybe she'd be able to move past Team 7.
Ino became frustrated with her friend's love life, or lack thereof, and took it upon herself to do something about it. The issue did not go over well with Sakura. She stood her ground when Ino pestered her with blind date propositions or double date requests, steadfastly refusing all. But Ino, known for being stubborn and pushy, attacked unceasingly, going as far as to send men directly to the hospital to pick Sakura up after her shifts. After giving the tenth consecutive guy her thanks-but-I'm-not-interested speech, Sakura marched down to the flower shop for the inevitable confrontation. Inoichi put a stop to it before any true violence had started by suggesting that they figure out a compromise, and that quickly, or he would bring the matter to the Hokage's attention. Sakura, in a move that pleased Kakashi, agreed to ask out one man of her own choosing for a single date.
To his horror, she chose Rock Lee.
Though, Kakashi supposed that Sakura's choice did have some merit. Lee was a good, honest kid and an excellent shinobi, not to mention the boy was infatuated with her. He would not play with her heart, even by accident as Naruto had.
Rejection was not something she would have to fear with him.
Still, Kakashi, as her self-imposed guardian, was not looking forward to watching over what he was sure would be a spectacle.
The date went better than expected, with almost no profusions of youth or blossoms and zero pieces of green spandex, and Sakura seemed mostly at ease. Lee was a perfect gentleman and, for once, chose not to overwhelm her with his professions of ardent love, instead keeping the atmosphere decidedly friendly. Kakashi was sure he had Tenten to thank for the change, though he never would; showing his appreciation would blow his cover.
One date turned into two, followed by many more, and a tentative relationship was formed. The couple went most everywhere together, holding hands and having quiet, intimate conversations. The general public believed them to be a sweet, romantic couple, drunk on the nectar of young love. The girl was full of life again. The black flames that had once almost consumed her were extinguished in their entirety and Kakashi knew that he should be happy for Sakura. But he wasn't. Because what he knew about being in love, the little that he was sure of, told him that this wasn't it.
And when Kakashi was proven correct, he cursed himself for it.
Half a year had passed before the girl realized that she didn't really love the boy.
Lee eventually needed more than Sakura was willing to give.
He was truly in love with her and was ready to spend the rest of his life in complete devotion to her. But Sakura struggled with seeing him as more than just a really good friend. Months into the relationship, kissing was still an issue. Oh, they kissed, and frequently at that, but they were chaste, fleeting moments, lacking the fire that lent passion to true lovers. It became clear to Sakura that while she would have no problems sharing her life with Lee, she would not be able to share his bed. The unfairness of the situation bled into her heart. His understanding of her confession made it all the worse.
And all Kakashi could do was watch as something more grave than betrayal filled her heart.
Guilt was a heavy burden to bear.
Solitude became the girl's best friend. Sakura began spending much of her free time training in the Forest of Death, pulverizing rocks and trees to powder as she vented the rage that she couldn't inflict upon herself. Kakashi didn't know whether she had authorization to be there, but no one ever came to stop her so he considered that permission enough and did nothing to be an obstruction.
When Sakura wasn't training or on a mission, either in the hospital or elsewhere, she holed herself up in her apartment. Sometimes she read. Other times she obsessively cleaned her equipment, making her kunai and shuriken gleam, while she watched sappy movies. Most times she just moped around her bedroom, curtains wide open as she stared into the nothing of the blue sky. She never cried anymore. Kakashi wasn't sure if she had gone numb or if she was just out of tears.
There was a certain monotony to what her life had become.
The only thing that broke up the pattern was the occasional mission thrown her way, though even those were getting fewer and farther between. Tsunade must have noted the change in her protégé's demeanor and was afraid to send her out. Kakashi, on the other hand, wished she would send her out more often. At least then Sakura would be doing something.
Her world had turned completely gray.
He hated to see her like this, but Kakashi couldn't bring himself to leave her alone now. And he knew there was no substance in the notion - because if there was, wouldn't she be clinging to him now? - but he couldn't help but think that maybe, just maybe, it was his presence that was keeping her together, even if she had no idea he was there.
And when Sakura started keeping her curtains open all night, he wanted to believe it was her way of saying that it was okay. That it was alright that he was watching over her. That she was welcoming his attention. He knew it was absurd, unfounded and bordering on delusional, but he couldn't shake the feeling.
Kakashi wondered when she had managed work her way inside him so thoroughly.
When Sai began to follow Sakura around, asking her out on dates and thrusting handfuls of flowers in her face on regular occasion, she apparently had no idea how to react. The first, second, and third times, the girl appeared to be taken aback, but each time politely refused. The next few instances, she chose to ignore the request, and the giver, altogether. When the number of attempts on Sai's behalf reached double digits, Sakura started to consider them sexual harassment and dealt with them thusly.
The fines to her paycheck did not bother the kunoichi.
Kakashi took the situation in stride, alternating between being amused by Sai's antics and frustrated by emotions he didn't want to acknowledge.
Round and round the cycle went, Sakura beating Sai to a pulp and then being forced to heal him when she was finished doling out her discipline. It was a strange kind of courtship, one that suited her well whether the girl realized it or not. Life had seeped back into her bones and there was a fire in her eyes that the jounin had not seen for a long time. Kakashi knew it was just a matter of time.
Kakashi hated being right.
The last time Sakura put Sai into the hospital was also the first day that they celebrated as a couple. After healing his broken jaw, she had broken down herself, letting the saline loose for the first time in many, many months.
"Why?" Sakura had asked, her voice timid and soft.
"Because, Hag, you're the only one who makes me feel."
The draperies stayed open again that night, but the woman was not alone. And Kakashi, cloaked by genjutsu and dark yearnings, watched as Sai slowly stripped Sakura of her garments. It was a private, intimate moment, one that the man knew he should not be watching. But he was transfixed, held to his perch by the beauty of her form. Kakashi stayed, sharingan activated, and took in every detail of their encounter. He only left when the pain too much to ignore.
He was no longer needed.
Kakashi made great efforts to avoid her after that, though he kept an ear ever open, waiting in spite of himself for her name to come up in the conversations that floated around him. He supposed he should be happy with the things he heard.
She still beat Sai up on a regular basis.
(Her friends believed it to be some kind of weird foreplay.)
Sakura was starting to smile all the time.
(People wondered if she had always been that beautiful.)
Shizune caught her humming in the hospital break room.
(The medical staff was happy that she was getting laid.)
She had become so radiant she practically glowed.
(The woman was in love, finally. Mutually.)
And really, Kakashi was happy for her. After all that she had been through, especially in that area of her life, she deserved it. He just hated that it wasn't with him. And Kakashi knew that it was his own fault. He had spent too much time just watching. But he hadn't realized what he felt for her until she was out of his grasp.
He wished he had taken the time to try.
Kakashi had been out on a mission when he heard the news. Naruto, believing that his old sensei should not get blindsided upon his return, sent one of his toads to relay the message.
Sai was dead by Sasuke's hand.
Naruto was having great difficulty keeping Sakura under control, her emotions shifting wildly, erratically, from sorrow to malevolence and back again. Kakashi recognized the unstated plea and sped up the pace of his mission. Less than twenty-four hours later marked the jounin's return to the village, two full days ahead of schedule.
But Sakura was already gone.
The kunoichi managed to catch her teammate unaware and had administered a sleeping cocktail. The kyuubi purged it as swiftly as he could, but Sakura had factored his interference into her plan; the dose was strong, with multiple different medications coming into play. The hour that the shinobi was unconscious afforded her more than enough time to give everyone the slip. By the time a team was assembled and sent out, her trail had grown cold. They returned empty-handed.
Tsunade allowed Naruto and Kakashi to leave the village with very little resistance. She wanted Sakura back too.
A week into their search, Sakura appeared on the far northern outskirts of the forest. Clothes in bloody tatters and her chakra depleted, she limped towards them carefully. The men rushed to close the gap between them and the woman.
"I'm sorry, sensei." She acknowledged them with glassy, distant eyes. "I got closer this time, but I still couldn't do it."
Sakura placed a small canvas bag in Naruto's hand, her own hands forcing his fingers to wrap carefully around the package like it was something precious. Her eyes closed as the last of her strength left her, the blackout nearly taking her to the ground before Kakashi could react. He clumsily scooped her up into his arms, the adrenaline and worry messing with his normal fluidity, while Naruto examined what she had turned over to his possession.
Both men paled.
Inside were Sasuke's eyes.
Sakura remained in the hospital for a whole month. The injuries to both her physical body and chakra network were extensive and severe. She was kept in a medically induced comatose state for a full two weeks before Tsunade was satisfied enough with her healing progress to awake her. Two weeks after that, she was released from the facility into her own custody and placed on disciplinary leave. Sakura was forbidden from leaving the village for an unspecified amount of time and was assigned a shadow detail.
Kakashi found his new mission disturbingly fitting.
This time he could observe her openly.
Sakura rarely spoke beyond that which was absolutely necessary. And she steadily declined to speak about her confrontation with Sasuke, no matter how much she was threatened with further disciplinary action. Her demeanor around others became impassive, detached, in a degree that inversely correlated to the strength of her previous attachment. To strangers and acquaintances, she was civil. To her friends, she was aloof and disconnected. She didn't acknowledge Kakashi's presence at all.
And at night, she kept every window covering in her home fastidiously shut. The message was clear. Sakura wanted no outside interference.
Conversely, when left to her own devices, Sakura was worryingly violent. The small apartment she shared with her deceased lover had become a visual representation of her inner workings, chaos and despair reigning. The kunoichi had knocked down all but the load-bearing walls and most of the furniture, save for what resided in the bedroom, had been reduced to kindling.
The tiny loft, which had doubled as Sai's studio, she left untouched.
When the woman ran out of things of her own to destroy, she returned to the forest. This time, Kakashi made sure that he received the proper authority and documentation for her to do so. He also arranged for Yamato to clean up on days when Sakura was unusually aggressive.
If the kunoichi ran out of trees, he wasn't sure what she would turn to next. Though, he supposed if she needed a punching bag, he would probably volunteer. And Kakashi knew why. It was because he could see it. The fire had enveloped her again, only this time it was the cold flame of hate.
He would do anything to extinguish it.
Once again, all he could do was watch as her grief took its course and he wondered if she would ever stand again.
Two seasons passed before Sakura finally let someone back in. Ino forcibly opened a crack in her defenses with her pig-headed persistence. For all her statements to the contrary, the blonde loved Sakura dearly, and Ino had no more patience for the lifeless medic. Kakashi liked to believe that Sakura was ready for a change anyway.
The girls spent over a week cleaning out Sakura's home, removing the debris and shattered dreams. It was a slow-moving process, filled with more silence than Ino had ever shouldered before, but it was a step in the right direction. They were left with but a shell of the place's former comfort, a fresh canvas with which to start over.
Ino enlisted Yamato and Naruto's help, one for erecting new walls and the other for manual labor; there was an apartment's worth of new furniture to be brought up three flights of steps, after all. Both men grumbled and protested, but neither really minded. It was more a force of habit than unwillingness.
The humble house re-warming party held that night was a small affair. Just the former members of Team Kakashi, plus Hinata and Ino, attended. Sakura, for that brief time, seemed almost like her old self as the group reminisced about old times, happier times, though when Sai was mentioned she misted up a bit. Still, no one had the heart to leave Sai out, not when he had become so much a part of their lives, and talking about his deeds, on and off the battlefield, was the only way to include him.
For Kakashi, this gathering was a more fitting memorial than the one that had been held after Sai's death. He had long since gotten over his envy of the man.
Soon after, Sakura was deemed ready to resume work at the hospital, though she was still not allowed on missions outside the village walls. The kunoichi was fine with that, though. Being reinstated as a medic was enough.
The woman started seeing her friends on a more regular basis, shopping with Ino or going to dinner with Naruto and his fiancée. Her smiles and laughter were slight and infrequent, but they had returned nonetheless.
Her trips to the forest remained constant, but instead of raging through them with destructive fists and feet, Sakura meandered on the intertwining paths. The gentle quiet of nature always brought a peaceful, thoughtful expression to her face.
And while Kakashi was relieved to finally bring positive reports to the hokage, he knew that meant his mission would be ending soon. He supposed re-establishing some physical distance was a good thing. He was well aware that he had already spent far too long following her around.
That didn't mean he wouldn't miss her though.
"I destroyed his chakra network." Sakura held her hands behind her back, much the way she used to when she was just a genin, as the two strolled through the forest together. The light-hearted manner in which she spoke did not fit the words falling from her mouth. "Just before I took his eyes."
Kakashi just stared at her, one eyebrow lightly raised in surprise. He wasn't sure if her confession or the fact that she was actually speaking to him was more shocking. It was the first time since he had become her guard that she had spoken to him directly.
"I know today is the last time you have to shadow me, sensei." Her tone turned serious. "That's why I asked you to walk with me. I thought you should know."
"Why are you telling me, Sakura?" Kakashi questioned mildly. "Shouldn't you be telling the hokage?"
"Don't go after him." Her voice held an edge of pleading. "I know you've been stuck here because of me. I don't want you leaving now that you can."
"What makes you think that I'll leave?"
"It's just a feeling. But I want you to know that you don't have to. I may not have been able to kill him," - Sakura hung her head - "but now that I'm lucid, I realize what I did was much worse."
"He'll never be a shinobi again." Kakashi finished for her.
"Yes." The sound reverberated harshly through her teeth. "So you don't have to leave."
He nodded his assent and pretended not to hear when she spoke to herself.
Everyone always leaves.
Kakashi did leave for a mission after that, and for others on frequent occasion, but never to chase down the Uchiha. With Sakura's report on the incident finally complete, the rogue-nin's capture became a low priority. That knowledge brought a small measure of closure to the remaining members of Team 7.
Kakashi picked up the habit of checking in on Sakura whenever he came back from a mission. It seemed to put her mind at ease, so he figured it was the least he could do. Sometimes they would go out for ramen, meeting Naruto, who was usually accompanied by Hinata, at Ichiraku's. Other times, she would make him food at her place and they would make clumsy attempts at small talk until he was ready to leave. Before he left, each and every time, Sakura made sure to remind him that he had an open invitation. Each time he promised to make use of it. And so a new cycle began.
Kakashi still shadowed her sometimes, mostly at night. He wasn't sure why, since he preferred to be in her company instead and finally had a relationship with her that allowed such liberties. Perhaps it was some kind of weird longing, a perversion that he had allowed to take root in his heart. He preferred to think it was homesickness.
Because her presence had somehow become where he felt most at ease.
She still kept her curtains shut, but that was okay with him. Kakashi was tired of entertaining ideas of what could never be.
Eventually their routine graduated from ramen and awkward chats to take out and relaxed lounging. Both were avid readers and found that while they enjoyed engaging in conversation, they had a preference for the peace that silence often brings. As the changes in weather had her seeking out his warmth - her feet draped over his lap or her ribs nestled against his own - Kakashi found that he liked the combination of winter and her apartment's lack of central heating.
And as he wandered the maze of friendship, he tried desperately to be content with just that.
The man couldn't say that he succeeded.
"Don't you ever want more, Kakashi?" the woman asked, her expression serious.
He moved his book aside and looked down to where she had placed her head on his lap after he had stolen all of the sofa's throw pillows. "Hmmm?"
"You heard me, old man. Don't act like you didn't." Sakura huffed a bit and crossed her arms. "All you ever do is go on missions and take over my couch and eat my food. Are you satisfied with just that?"
"I believe you said I had an open invitation." Kakashi drawled out, like he was speaking to a child, and brought his eyes back to his reading page. "But if I'm not welcome here anymore..."
Sakura dug an elbow into his side. "You know that's not what I meant."
"I know." His amusement crinkled his visible eye.
"So? Are you going to answer me?" She bit out her frustrated response.
With his free hand Kakashi absently played with the ends of her hair, trying to find an appropriate response. The one thing he really wanted was the one thing that he couldn't tell her. The woman cleared her throat impatiently and he made the mistake of glancing down at her before he had properly masked his emotions. Sakura blushed, moved by whatever it was she saw on his face, and it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He couldn't force himself to turn away.
What he wanted was her.
Briefly, Kakashi thought about kissing her. It would be so easy, would feel so right, that it would be as natural to him as breathing.
Instead, he replied. "No, I'm not."
Kakashi went back to his book and tried to ignore the puzzlement written on her face.
And when he left for the night and she pulled him into a tight embrace, whispering in his ear - come back, please come back - he tried to hide the confusion on his.
Later, when he came back to watch her sleep, the drapes were wide open, letting the moonlight filter in, and Sakura was standing at the open window. The man instantly froze, but his presence had already been detected and she was motioning for him to come to her.
Kakashi always knew one day he'd get caught. He just never thought Sakura would be the one to discover him. Kakashi made his way to her, readying himself for whatever retribution she would send his way. Instead, a petite hand grabbed his and pulled him gently inside, while the other closed the window behind him.
"It's always been you, hasn't it?"
The question took him by surprise. "Sakura, I don't understand what you're asking."
"Watching over me, I mean." The woman hesitated and then turned her face up towards him. "I first noticed something after Sasuke tried to kill me."
"No, Kakashi. Hear me out, okay? I think I deserve that much," she interrupted, hands on her hips. "Seriously, I caught you red-handed."
He rubbed the back of his head and sighed. She was right, of course, and stubborn to the point that arguing would be pointless. But that didn't make him want to have this conversation. Being the clever man he was, he nodded anyway.
"I figured it was you. You can disguise your chakra signature really well, but that doesn't compensate for female intuition." A hint of a smirk ghosted across her lips temporarily, but it was soon gone in favor of more serious things. "That's why I was afraid you would go after him, you know? Because if it really was you keeping an eye on me, maybe you'd care enough to do something stupid."
"I see." It was all he could trust himself to say.
"But I had my doubts." Sakura frowned. "I could only feel it when things were really bad for me, so I thought maybe I was just imagining things. You know, like my subconscious knew I needed support and manifested something of its own accord. But I was right, wasn't I?"
"Yes." He forced himself to look her in the eye. Remaining calm became difficult. Keeping up the guise of being unruffled was even harder.
Sakura buried her head in her hands and Kakashi felt cold dread run down his spine. But then she lifted her face and beamed. "That's such a relief. I thought I was going crazy."
"Wait," - Kakashi floundered for a reply, completely taken aback - "you're not mad?"
Sakura's eyebrows scrunched. "Why would I be?"
"Why? Why?" Kakashi groaned aloud. "Sakura, a fully grown man has just admitted to peeping on you for an extended length of time and you don't care?"
"And?" she countered, unfazed.
"And what, Sakura? You don't care that just anyone could have been watching you?"
"But it wasn't just anyone." She shoved a pointed finger into his chest. "It was you. Do you really think I would have opened my curtains up if it was anyone else? I think you forget that I'm a kunoichi sometimes. If I had wanted to, I could have put a stop to it at anytime."
"I still don't understand why you didn't." He removed her finger from his chest by curling his hand around it. It wasn't a particularly intimate gesture, more akin to blocking a punch than holding her hand, but it pleased him when she didn't pull away.
"Because I knew it was either you or my imagination. Either one of those options was fine with me." Sakura adjusted her hand and entangled their fingers. "And eventually, I wanted it to be you. I don't know exactly when or how, but you - or maybe the idea of you - got under my skin."
"That's when you started leaving your curtains open?" Kakashi whispered, bending forward to lean his forehead against hers.
"Yeah." As Sakura spoke softly, their breath intermingled. "But you never tried anything, not even when Sai... You never got the hint."
"Oh, I got the hint." Confidence buoyed him and he wrapped his other arm around the small of her back, their bodies almost flush. "I just thought that I was the one imagining things. I would have tried if I had known."
She shifted closer. "Oh."
"And that was cruel of you, Sakura." Kakashi didn't intend to cause her pain with his prodding, but it was something he had to discuss. "Letting me see you and Sai."
"I- I'm sorry." Horror was shown on her face briefly as she remembered, before shifting towards embarrassment.
"Why would you do that?" The man whispered gently in her ear, dragging his hand slowly up her back until it came to rest in her hair.
"It-" She had to clear her throat. "It was a test. To see if you were really there. I figured if you were and you felt something for me, you might try to stop it before it went too far?"
"I see." Kakashi closed his eyes, willing his heart to calm down as the meaning of her words began to register.
"I don't regret it, though." Sakura's voice was quietly defiant. "I ended up falling in love with him."
"I know." Kakashi released her hand, her hair, and wrapped his arms fully around her, his head buried in her neck. "I know. That's why I couldn't try anything. By the time I understood myself, you were already with him. And that was enough for me because you were happy."
"Thank you." Sakura clung to him, making a great effort not to cry. She ended up giving into the tears anyway.
Kakashi held her close as he wrapped his head around the implications of their conversation. There was an irony to their situation that he could not deny - the teacher had been one-upped by the student.
When her emotions had settled, Sakura spoke, hushed and full of hopeful yearning, "You'll try now though, won't you?"
He hooked a finger along the rim of his mask, pulling it down gently, and kissed her.
It wasn't as if he could deny her.
Kakashi was bound by a trap of his own creation.
But he had no intention of trying to escape.