He was trapped. Trapped in a vortex of quicksand, his limbs impossibly heavy and useless, his broken fingers frantically but pointlessly trying to find something to hold on to. He was sinking rapidly, the pressure around him mounting, crushing his bones, the sound of their breaking momentarily drowning out the grating song of the incessantly slithering sand particles. There was no more air. There was sand, only sand, it was entering his mouth, it was finding its way into his lungs. As he suffocated, he had one last thought: He had not ...
“Hatake Kakashi! Breathe!”
Somebody was shaking him. Shaking him very roughly.
If somebody was shaking him, he was probably not really trapped in a vortex of quicksand. He dared to gasp for air.
Air. There was air. No sand. Air. Precious air, lots of it. His eyes sprang open.
He lay there drawing it into his lung in large gulps until he was convinced he was not dying. But when he tried to move, he couldn’t. He was flat on his back on a soft surface, with something holding him down with considerable force. There was pain. A lot of it, but he had learned to push that away until it no longer bothered him.
“Kakashi? Can you hear me?”
A female head appeared in his field of vision. A fair-skinned person with brown eyes and straight blonde hair that parted above the diamond-shaped mark on her forehead. Kakashi blinked in confusion. It was a very beautiful face that he should recognize. They eyes narrowed as they came closer. Without a warning, a light was shone into both his eyes, instantly making a massive headache flare up.
“Dammit,” the woman growled, “I feel like beating you to a pulp! I need you out there, not in here!”
Tsunade. That was her name. Hokage. That’s what she was.
“Godaime Hokage,” Kakashi said or rather, wanted to say, but all he managed was a raspy whisper and a cough that didn’t want to end.
His Hokage briefly disappeared, then came back with a large glass of water. Sliding her hand underneath his head, she lifted it up enough for him to drink. Not water, medicine. Kakashi pulled a disgusted face as the bitter substance assaulted his taste buds, but refrained from spitting it out, thinking that his Hokage already looked enraged enough, he better not provoke her any further unless she would make good on her threat to beat him to a pulp.
“Why… why am I chained?” Kakashi managed to say after the cold liquid had soothed his vocal cords somewhat.
“Ha!” Tsunade exclaimed, “you were in their hands for three days. Three days! Of course we have to make sure you were not compromised.”
Kakashi blinked again. What was this woman talking about?
“What did you find out?” Tsunade asked him next, bending forward in visible excitement. The movement almost made her large bust spill out and Kakashi wavered between staring in fascination at the round, jiggly globes or closing his eyes again because he felt very confused. What was going on? He had no recollection, no recollection at all how he had gotten here.
“I…,” Kakashi realized that the ceiling above him looked vaguely familiar, but not in a good way.
“Yes?” Tsunade asked, “do you know how we can beat them?”
Beat whom? Carefully, Kakashi pulled against the strong sealing chains wrapped around his limbs, but it was useless. He could not even move a finger. His chakra was depleted, only the faintest of force stirred within him.
“I… do not seem to recall,” he confessed. Was that bad? It had to be. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head in small, rapid movements, trying to jolt his memory into action, but it only served to worsen his headache. There was nothing. Just a vague feeling of… danger. Of frustration. Of… things he should be glad not to remember.
“Dammit,” Tsunade said and followed up by a string of swear words that made Kakashi’s ears burn.
“You idiot,” she spat out at the end, “I told you not to overdo it.”
“Well, I meant to tell you,” she said, but more to herself, “why are men always so irresponsible .”
She emphasized the last word, making it sound like an insult.
“Lady Tsunade,” Kakashi began, “what…”
“You stay here until we know exactly what’s wrong with you!” she told him, jabbing her index finger against his aching chest, making him wince. “I can give you three days max , then I need you in the field again.”
Kakashi nodded. “Yes,” he said with some feeling of relief.
In the field… that’s where he belonged.
A series of jabs and prods from Lady Tsunade followed, probably meant to tell her what was wrong with him. Some of what she did helped against the pain, some of it made it worse.
“Whose idea was it anyway to send an old man on this kind of mission,” she murmured angrily. “Oh… it was mine! Based on a certain man boasting he had 197 D-rank, 190 C-rank, 414 B-rank, 298 A-rank, 75 S-rank missions under his belt. Why did everybody else have to get married or injured or die… dammit.”
More swearing followed. Old? Kakashi pressed his lips together. His lips that were not covered by his mask . This was worse than finding himself in front of her naked.
“Could you please pull up my mask,” he addressed the Lady Tsunade as politely as he could, considering the pain in his head and in his body and the considerable annoyance that was beginning to rise in him.
She stopped her muttering and stared at him. “Huh? Why deprive Konoha of a face as handsome as yours?”
He glared at her. He would most certainly not explain himself.
“Alright,” she sighed, bent forward a little and pulled up his mask that had rested beneath his chin. “There.” And with a sigh. “As soon as you’re able to stand, I will call for Yamato to start the interrogation.”
Half an hour later, his confusion only got several degrees bigger when he realized it was his .
When he saw the bars outside his room, when he walked down the narrow, twisting passageway, designed to confuse those without a map, full of boobytraps to stop those foolish enough to try and escape, he knew. He was in the high-security facilities of Konoha’s hospital. Deeply underground. It was where Anbu brought injured elite prisoners that had failed to kill themselves before being captured - for torture and interrogation.
None of them had ever seen the light of day again.
The voices were annoying even though the two people in the room were speaking in hushed tones. What they were saying was even more annoying and that they thought he could not hear them when they whispered loudly like this topped it all.
“It is protocol,” Tsunade said, “we cannot make an exception.”
“I refuse to torture him,” Yamato said with emphasis, “they already did plenty of that. Find somebody else.”
“There is nobody else I can let near him!” Tsunade hissed, “you know exactly how very few battle skilled ninjas we have left after this war, it’s the worst it has ever been…people need to make more children!” she huffed angrily.
“Yes, Lady Hokage,” Yamato said apologetically, clearly trying to soothe her legendary temper. “I am sorry. But I will not torture him, with all due respect. I cannot do it. It will not bring back the memories you want anyway, so what’s the point?”
The shuffling of feet. Then it sounded like somebody had kicked a chair. Kakashi thought he would really like to sleep some more, he felt incredibly tired. The sealing chains were getting heavier by the minute and he simply wanted to forget… everything.
“I want to sleep,” he said loudly. He also wanted to be alone.
“Kakashi, sorry,” Yamato hurried to his bedside. “You really need your rest.”
“Who’s the doctor here?” Tsunade scoffed but came to his side too. There was a softness in her eyes when she looked at him that almost scared him. Was he in that bad a shape? Or had she decided to eliminate him and was sentimental about it.
“I don’t mind being tortured,” Kakashi murmured as his eyes fell shut. “Just do it.”
Had he not received ample training how to resist under torture? Nobody would ever break him. Not even someone as good as Yamato.
“I have an idea,” Tsunade said slowly after they chose to ignore him completely and so quietly Kakashi almost didn’t register it, “so we do not have to break protocol.”
“Oh?” Yamato said, sounding intrigued.
“Yes,” Tsunade replied, “and I think we can fix two things at once. Make sure he has not gone rogue and has not been in any way tampered with and make sure he remembers what he needs to remember without remembering too much.”
The voices grew quiet after this, maybe they had left, but despite his bone-crushing tiredness and his explicit wish to blank out, Kakashi did not seem able to fall asleep. Something in his mind was running around like a caged rat, throwing words and images at him, too fast for him to understand or recognize anything.
Chained to the chair in front of his comrade Yamato in the interrogation room not too long ago, Kakashi had feared for a brief moment that he might have snapped and lost his mind, like he had it seen happening with some of their team members. Tsunade had assured him that was not the case, he had just been injured very badly while on duty, but Kakashi had not been convinced. He still wasn’t.
“Why… do I remember some things very clearly and other things not at all?” he had asked them in that other room. Which had started a long series of questions about what he did remember.
Hatake Kakashi. Jōnin of the Hidden Leaf Village. Anbu Squad Leader. Mastered all three main ninja skills, knew how to use all five basic nature transformations, as well as the Yin Release and Yang Release. Probably knew more ninjutsu than anybody else due to… due to…
The feeling that had come over Kakashi at that point had been a mixture of shock and disbelief. He had lost his mind. Or was he dreaming?
“Where is…” he had not been able to say it. Both his eyes were open. Both saw… normally. There was no red tinge, there were no colorful chakra flows, there was no rapid signal input.
It was gone.
He had lost his Sharingan. It had been taken from him, that’s what Yamato had told him, patiently and sounding like someone telling a family member a loved one had died. He was not sure he could deal with this information right now. Maybe never. But what disturbed him almost more was that it had been years, apparently, since Naruto Uzumaki had restored his old eye using Yin-Yang Release. Years!
The rat was running around in his head, running, running, running, What was happening to him? Fearing insanity, groping for indications he was indeed just injured, Hatake Kakashi found himself in an unpleasant state of half-sleep for what seemed an eternity, too tired to stay awake, too agitated to sleep, until somebody stepped into his room and sat down in the chair near the door.
The small sounds the person made upon entry woke him up instantly, like his body had just waited for a chance to escape the restless slumber. Kakashi tried to lift his head, but even that was denied to him thanks to Tsunade’s sealing bonds.
“Who has come?” he asked instead, only his knowledge of how secure these facilities were keeping him from feeling threatened in his completely powerless state.
“Kakashi Sensei?” a female voice said, sounding a bit timid, but, while coming closer “Kakashi Sensei!” she repeated and the second time, the voice sparkled with joy.
A head appeared above him. Pink hair. Green eyes. A diamond-shaped mark on her forehead. A smile that rivalled the sun and made him warm all over.
“Sakura?” Kakashi stared at her, feeling this very unpleasant feeling of shock and disbelief again. Why did she look so… he blinked. Sakura was no girl anymore, she was clearly a woman , a very attractive woman. When… had that happened?
The woman that she had become had grabbed his hand and pressed it, still smiling broadly, but the longer he just stared at her the more the smile disappeared, until it was replaced by a frown. He felt sorry to have wiped away the smile, but what could he ever do to bring it back?
“You look…,” he murmured, already beginning to stumble over the next part of this sentence and thinking it may be better to say nothing.
“Kakashi Sensei, I am so very glad to see you,” Sakura said, “where have you been? I was trying to find you a few times after the war, but you were never home.”
She bit her lips when he continued to stare at her in silence.
“Right, Hokage Tsunade said I should not pester you with questions.”
“Why are you…” he made a gesture at the room, at everything.
“I am here to make sure you get well in no time!” Sakura said proudly, pointing at a symbol on the red dress she wore. Doctor , it read. The Konoha medical-nin team symbol. Of course. A healer. It suited her very well.
But… he had known that, had he not.
Kakashi briefly closed his eyes against the sudden dizziness that washed over him. It had been years, they said, but after just waking up and finding out he had two functioning eyes again, he needed time to get used to it.
“Do you want to sit up, Sensei?” Sakura asked.
He nodded. He wanted to sit up and walk out of here and be done with things.
After he remembered the things.
Sakura’s hand left his, there was a burst of chakra hitting him very gently and then her arm was being wedged underneath his shoulder to help him up. Feeling ashamed at appearing so invalid, Kakashi hoisted himself up with as much vigor as he could muster. Sakura had grabbed some large pillows from somewhere, was fluffing them up and placing them behind his back
“Here we go!” she beamed at him.
So she had lessened Tsunade’s bonds somewhat, he realized, flexing his fingers and rolling his shoulders. Being able to move at his own volition made his situation so much better.
“Is Lady Tsunade still training you?” he asked, once again looking at the grown woman in front of him with a sense of wonderment.
“Not really,” Sakura said with a shy smile. “She says she cannot teach me anything more.”
“You did well, Sakura,” Kakashi said and smiled proudly. He was happy she had found her place. And proud. Though he wasn’t sure any of this was his doing. She had always hated the things he had taught her. She did not want to kill things.
“Oh Sensei, where were you,” she said again after turning a little red to hear his praise. “I was very worried. And I… I really wanted you to come to my wedding!”
Say what now? Kakashi’s eyebrows shot up. “You are m….”
But of course she would be. Everybody in their right minds got married and had families. Konoha needed children, as many as possible.
Sakura nodded and looked at him expectantly. “Congratulations?” Kakashi offered because that was what one said.
“It’s Sasuke, Sensei,” Sakura said, obviously expecting more of a reaction from him.
Kakashi nodded, feeling… inexplicably annoyed that a woman as bright and talented as her had never gotten over her childhood crush, would tie herself to this one man over and over, even after everything he had done… he forced himself to smile. What business of his was this? Sasuke Uchiha was one of the most powerful ninjas alive, last descendant of a clan who had brought Konoha much glory - and much suffering.
“How is he?” Kakashi asked, not wanting to give himself the chance to say anything else.
“Oh, fine!” Sakura beamed, but Kakashi caught the slight strain in her voice anyway. Being conscious of how important privacy was, he let it slide.
“I am sorry I missed your wedding,” he added. Which was a lie, but one he was expected to make. He hated social functions like this.
Sakura kind of shrugged, then nodded and took a step back to look at him.
“You look the same,” she declared. “Well, almost.” She pointed to his left eye, causing him to bring his own hand up to cover it with his fingers instinctively. She laughed. “I still need to get used to you having two eyes all the time.”
So do I , he thought with a pang of sadness, letting his hand sink again. The world looked different without a sharingan. But then, it had never been his to keep anyway.
Sakura was still studying him in a way that was beginning to make him a little uncomfortable. He wasn’t exactly wearing a lot, he realized, just the sleeveless black Anbu shirt and some sort of long pants, but at least his mask was in place.
“Sensei…” she said haltingly and he lifted his eyebrows questioningly. “Your… tattoo....?”
Kakashi turned his head to the left. There it was, on his upper arm, the small red flame, the color renewed with special ink so that it seemed to glow eerily. A tell-tale mark for anyone who knew what it meant and a warning to everyone who did not. But how much of a secret could his affiliation be if she was here, seeing him in an Anbu high-security facility?
Kakashi said nothing, just waited for her to reveal why she would react like this. What had Tsunade told her? Sakura seemed to wait too - for an explanation? If she had an inkling of what it signified, she would also know he could not tell her anything without breaking rules he lived and died by.
“The body has limits,” she finally said, sounding a bit angry.
Kakashi nodded. That was true. He knew his body and its limits very well. But he also knew that these limits could be pushed. And he knew that young bodies may have more strength and flexibility, but they would never have his endurance or his experience.
“I was right to worry about you,” Sakura added, frowning at him. “You should have settled down too. Sensei, you’re no use to anyone dead.”
“I’m not dead, Sakura,” he said and smiled. Truthfully, now that he was sitting up, he felt better by the minute. He was hungry.
“But you could have been,” she retorted angrily, “I read the file.”
Then she knew more than him.
Sakura offered no more information, so he shrugged. He was used to these kind of lectures. There had always been people around him unhappy with his choices, but he had no regrets. His village needed him and he would give his everything to help, doing what he knew to do best.
Which was… killing people. Killing people so his people could be happy, have families and children.
His stomach growled audibly, somewhat lessening the tension.
“You are hungry, Sensei!” Sakura exclaimed, “I am so sorry.”
“That’s none of your fault,” he murmured, briefly wondering why such a highly skilled doctor had been sent here instead of a mere nurse. But maybe they did not trust a mere nurse to be alone with him, despite his lack of chakra. Sakura had rushed over to the door where she had deposited two bags and a larger backpack. As if she was going camping. There was some rummaging and then she reemerged with two boxes in her hand.
“I didn’t think you’d like hospital food much,” she said, “so I brought you something else.”
In one of the containers, there was miso soup that she heated up using her chakra, with white boiled rice in a compartment underneath it. In the other box, there were many vegetables, raw and cooked. It all smelled delicious and looked wonderful.
“Did you make this?” he asked, feeling a bit overwhelmed by such a gesture.
“Yes,” she said simply and arranged the things in front of him on a tray, putting a spoon and chopsticks near his right hand. “I didn’t have saury and had not time to b…”
“It’s more than enough,” he cut her short. “Thank you.”
She looked away, knowing about his sensitivities and he began to eat after pulling down his mask, slowly at first, as he knew he should, then faster and faster as his hunger got the better of him. It was incredibly delicious, but gone much too quickly. With a sigh, he sank back into the cushions after adjusting the mask.
“You shouldn’t eat so fast!” Sakura exclaimed after turning her face back to him.
“Sorry,” Kakashi said, suppressing a little burp. “I couldn’t help it.”
“I should have brought more,” she lamented, looking at the empty containers in front of him with a sad expression.
Kakashi chuckled. “I am pretty sure it doesn’t say ‘feed your former Sensei’ in any of your job-descriptions. Don’t worry about it.”
“I did bring you something else,” she remembered after a small smirk at his comment, “there is a new coffee shop in town, the line tends to be frightening, but I was lucky to get two cups before coming here.”
Coffee? That sounded exactly like what he wanted. More rummaging in the bags, then she came back to the bed with two thermos cups. How very thoughtful.
“I am very glad to see you, Sensei,” she said shyly and put the cup in front of him.
“Me too,” he replied on impulse.
It was what one said. But it was also true, he realized. He was glad. Sakura’s presence brightened up this gloomy hospital cell in so many ways. He turned his face away to sip the delicious brew, ever so often throwing a glance at her from the side.
It had been years.
Years during which this annoying girl had become a capable woman, during which he had lost his most prized asset, the Sharingan. During which... there had to be other things.
Why did he not remember? Or rather… what was it that his mind was denying him access to?
"Thank you," he said quietly and watched Sakura's pretty face light up in the most wonderful fashion. It somehow did not discomfort him as much now that she was here. Tsunade did seem to know him very well.