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Cold Comfort

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The day Kakashi hears about Sasuke, he goes home and gets royally drunk.

He puts a hand on Naruto’s shoulder as the boy weeps in Tsunade’s office, even catches him as he starts to sag. Sakura won’t stop staring at the Hokage out of bright, shell-shocked eyes.

“He attacked the Raikage’s brother,” Tsunade says, her calm tone almost masking the grief in her eyes. “There were bound to be consequences.”

“No,” Naruto says hoarsely. “No, I don’t believe you.”

“I’m sorry,” Tsunande says, so low it’s almost a whisper.

After Naruto runs off, Kakashi walks, very slowly and sedately, out of Tsunade’s office. The Fifth starts to say his name, but Kakashi ignores her. He sticks his hands in his pockets and puts one foot in front of the other until he reaches his apartment. Then he takes the bottle of vodka out from behind his collection of paperbacks and begins to drink.

He doesn’t grieve; Kakashi’s never grieved for anyone save Obito and Rin, and maybe his sensei as well. But he drinks slowly and steadily and thinks back to the day he met all of them, Sasuke’s eyes already so much harder than Naruto’s or Sakura’s. It was like looking into a mirror of his younger self, and Kakashi can’t remember whether the compassion or the distaste was stronger in him at that time.

Either way, it was Sasuke who convinced him to pass them all, Sasuke who made him believe that these three might have a chance together. Sasuke, cracking his shell just enough to hand Naruto a bit of lunch. It was more wisdom than Kakashi had ever shown when he was Sasuke’s age, and he was naïve enough to think it could mean salvation.

Sometimes the weight of his mistakes threatens to crush him.

Kakashi drinks until even his formidable coordination is shot to hell, and the ceiling is turning in lazy circles above him. He makes it worse by uncovering his Sharingan, and he welcomes the nausea that rises up in him. He plays with the feeling, seeing how sick he can make himself feel without actually giving in to the urge to throw up. He remembers Jiraiya explaining this game to him, and how he thought the sage was crazy at the time.

Now he knows; Jiraiya understood how to dull the pain. It’s something Kakashi seems to have to learn over and over and over again.

The room is dark with shadows when he hears the knock on his door. It creaks open a few seconds later, and Sakura’s deceptively lanky figure is standing there. “Sensei?” she asks into the dark room, hushed.

The dim, still-sober part of his brain can’t help but be alarmed that anyone on his team should see him in this particular condition. The panic runs a distant second to his self-protective apathy, however.

“Not now, Sakura,” he says, and his voice comes out steady as a rock.

She ignores him, approaching slowly. “I can’t find Naruto,” she says. Her voice is muffled, like she’s been crying for a long, long time.

Kakashi props himself up on his elbows, and the room jolts sickeningly into focus. Sakura looks like a ghost in the shadows. She’s just a blur of white skin under cotton-candy hair, a waif made up of helpless strength and bright, tragic eyes.

Kakashi tries to pull some of his good-sensei persona around him. Naruto is grieving in his own way, he should say. Give him time. Or, Let’s look for him together, or even It’s okay to cry. He says nothing and stares, the alcohol dulling his whole being so that he can’t speak, can barely breathe, for fear that the numbness will shatter.

“Say something, please,” Sakura says, voice wavering. “I need you to say something. I know you can’t fix it, and I know you’re not my therapist, but I need to talk to someone, and Naruto’s gone, and Sai doesn’t understand. Ino’s on mission and Tsunade’s already half-drunk…”

Her voice is taking a hiccupping dive into hysteria, and Kakashi reacts more quickly than he suspected his muscles were capable of at this point. He’s kneeling in front of her before he realizes he’s moved, forcing her head between her knees as she gasps. He knows his hand is gripping the back of her neck too tightly, and he doesn’t much care at the moment.

“Breathe,” he orders.

Her shoulders clench as her inhalations start to even out. She’s shaking all over, and Kakashi distantly wonders at the fact that one teenage boy could bring such emotional wreckage down on an entire village. Sasuke was far from his favorite person, but that doesn’t stop the loss – the sorrow, the regret, the failure – from clawing away at his insides.

Sakura finally lifts tear-filled eyes, biting down on her lower lip. “You smell like a sake bar,” she says in a small voice. “Is that how all the adults in this village deal? Is that what I’m going to turn into when I become a jounin?”

“Go home, Sakura,” Kakashi says, attempting to gentle his vodka-soaked tones. “We can face it tomorrow.”

Instead of leaving, she leans forward and puts her lips very softly against his masked mouth. Even through the cloth she tastes like a mix of clear water and dark, salty tears. Her eyelashes flutter against his cheeks as her lids fall shut.

He doesn’t move a muscle. When she finally pulls back, he keeps his face flat, discouraging. “We all have our own ways of grieving,” he says in a cool voice. “Some are better than others.”

She doesn’t rear back in hurt like he expects. Her pale mouth turns up in a sad little smile. “Probably, that’s true,” she says.

She kisses him again, letting her tongue creep out this time. Kakashi hasn’t felt another mouth against his own in longer than he can remember, and the delicate warmth is a shock. She inches forward, tilting her head for a better angle. He catches her wrist before she touches his hair.

“Enough,” he says sharply.

She’s chewing on her lip again as she looks down. “I know I was never the most talented, or the bravest. I don’t have any special blood, or any demon sealed inside of me. But I always thought that maybe if I just loved them enough… But now,” her voice breaks, “it doesn’t matter anymore does it? Sasuke’s gone, and Naruto…I don’t even know what Sasuke’s death will do to him, and…”

Sakura. The reason for her grief finally cuts through Kakashi’s alcoholic-induced fog, and he steadies her face between his palms. The wide, heart-shape of her skull looks very small. Crushable, even.

“It’s not your fault,” he tells her, his voice more rough than soothing. “Sasuke made his choice a long time ago.” It’s not your fault, he thinks in despair. It’s mine.

This time, when she kisses him, he doesn’t push her away. She makes a little whimpering sound when he drags her against him, locking them pelvis-to-pelvis there on the floor of his apartment. Her arms go around his neck and his hands cup her jaw, and it’s disconcerting to realize how fragile she feels. She can cause earthquakes with her fist, and somehow he can still circle her waist with one arm.

She doesn’t stop kissing him when he picks her up, and when they reach the bed she’s the one who pushes him down and straddles him. She’s crying again, but the expression in her green eyes is far away. They’re both using each other for comfort now, and the guilt feels like a rock in Kakashi’s throat. Maybe if he wasn’t drunk, and maybe if he didn’t already have years of her scent and feel catalogued in his brain, on his hands... Maybe then he’d be doing the responsible thing.

But he always tried to do the responsible thing with Sasuke, too. He just didn’t realize the truth until it was too late.

Her fingernails scratch his cheeks as she pulls the fabric of his mask down, and then she’s kissing him for real, skin to skin, mouth to mouth, teeth and lips rubbing as they trade inhales and exhales. He could almost come just from the luxury of peeling the barrier down, of feeling oxygen and warmth and tears against his face.

It’s a shame, he thinks dimly, that she finally gets to see under the mask, and she’s too far gone to remember.

She’s a virgin, and she inhales sharply when she sinks down on his length. But she’s a shinobi, and the discomfort soon disappears from her face as she squeezes her inner muscles with agonizing precision.

“I know,” she says in a dazed voice. “Tsunade taught me everything. I know every tendon, every muscle, and what it does to you, and what it does to me. I have it all memorized.”

Kakashi endures the slow friction and the lilting words for as long as he can, and then he rolls them over and thrusts into her. Her legs come up around him with the same fierceness he sees in her on the battlefield. He realizes, ridiculously, that she still has her boots on. But then, his vest is still fastened and both their forehead protectors are neatly in place.

Think, Kakashi, he tells himself, putting his mouth on her skin. How useless are you? How much will you regret this later? How much will you hurt her?

“Please, don’t stop,” she whispers.

The answer is: it just doesn’t matter.