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Getting Lost on the Roads of Life

Chapter Text

“Kakashi?”

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, not 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.”

She had?

“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.”

Of… whom?

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.

Years.

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.

Chapter Text

“Sakura-san,” Tsunade smiled sweetly behind her large desk. Too sweetly. She wanted something from her and was anticipating she would say no.

“Yes, Hokage-sama?” Sakura smiled just as sweetly.

“Are you very busy at the hospital?”

Well, that was obvious, wasn’t it, they were always busy because there was not enough staff. Besides, Lady Tsunade was the one overseeing the rosters, so she most certainly knew Sakura was working much more than she had to. For not enough pay. But now was not the time to complain.

“Yes, very busy, Hokage-sama,” Sakura replied politely.

“How is your… family life?”

Seriously? Sakura scowled. Tsunade had to know Sasuke was still not back from wherever he went to for months and months.

“Any plans for… children?”

Was the Hokage drunk again? Sakura sniffed the air inconspicuously. No, not more than usual.

“I am thinking to pass a law that every able bodied couple has to have at least three children,” Tsunade mused.

“Excuse me?” Sakura exclaimed in disbelief.

Tsunade sighed. “Not enough? Should I make it four?”

“Hokage-sama!” Sakura scolder her, “you cannot force Konoha’s citizens to have children if they don’t want to!”

“Says who!” the Sannin said angrily. “I’m the Hokage! And I am thinking to put an aphrodisiac into the water supply for a start. It’s spring. Nobody will notice.”

Sakura gasped for air. She was not seriously having such a conversation, was she? She had better things to do.

“If you do that, with all due respect, Tsunade-sama, I will make sure the council stops you.”

Tsunade scowled at her angrily. “Haruno, you are just too… rule-abiding.”

Since when was that a bad thing?

“Hokage-sama,” Sakura said, “I do understand your worries. The death toll during the war was horrific. Our numbers took a severe hit and the population is continuing to drop instead of going up. And yet…,” Sakura took a deep breath. Who would want to bring children into a world as insecure as theirs? She knew from Naruto how many holes there were in their defences. The outside world seemed quiet enough at the moment, but it was a very uneasy peace. “...people will become more hopeful again with time,” she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt.

“How much more time?” Tsunade sighed. “It’s been almost a decade.”

“Another… decade?” Sakura ventured to guess.

“I am worried, Sakura,” Tsunade admitted and for a moment, she sounded as old as she was. “I need more Shinobi.”

“Is there something I can do to alleviate your worries, Hokage-sama?” Sakura asked. Except conjure up well trained Shinobi from thin air.

“Yes,” the Hokage nodded and her hand snuck over to the bottle on her desk, only to hesitate in the air. The hand sunk down and Tsunade sighed again, more heavily.

“I have a problem,” she said, her face darkening, “but I trust you are discreet enough to handle it well.”

“Yes, Hokage-sama,” Sakura replied, standing straight, “you can trust me.”

“What is your relationship with Hatake Kakashi?”

What?

“My Sensei?” Sakura asked dumbfounded, though she had never heard of anyone else with that name.

Tsunade nodded.

“He is my Sensei,” Sakura said, feeling rather confused. What other relationship should she have? He was her Teacher.

That she thought about often.

That she had wanted to see for a long time, because she felt he would be able to help her understand… the Uchihas.

That she had worried about a lot because it could only mean one thing if a Jonin was never home.

“Has something happened to him?” she suddenly exclaimed, feeling cold dread flood her senses.

“Well…,” Tsunade squirmed. “Yes. No, he’s fine, he’s fine, don’t freak out. It’s only…,” she sighed again. “You can see for yourself!”

Sakura held out her hand towards the file that Tsunade had picked up from her desk. A patient? Kakashi Sensei was a patient at the hospital? Why did she not know about it. Feeling an awful lot of trepidation, Sakura opened the file and began to read.

“How many missions have you sent him on since the end of the war?” she asked quietly when she was halfway through.

“That information is classified,” Tsunade replied curtly. “And I do not have to send him. He volunteers.”

Classified. Half of the information in this file was blacked out. Of course, Sakura knew about some of Kakashi Sensei’s past, well or at least guessed, and she knew about Konoha’s secret military branch. A Jonin as capable as him would most naturally be used for the most difficult and sensitive missions there were. Undercover missions. Assassination. Infiltration.

Classified. She did not like the sound of it.

“Partial amnesia?” she asked and pressed her lips together. “Why?”

“That we are not sure about,” Tsunade said, but it seemed to Sakura like she was lying.

“And you want me to…?”

“Look at him. Have him look at you.”

“Why me?”

“He needs to see a familiar face.”

“Are there no other familiar faces?”

“No,” Tsunade said resolutely. “At least not familiar faces he will like to see and who are skilled in medical jutsu.”

Sakura nodded slowly. “You want me to find out what’s wrong with him?”

Tsunade nodded.

“And you want him restored as quickly as possible?”

“I need him,” Tsunade said. “Desperately. And I need you to ascertain that he… he is no threat.”

Sakura could not believe her ears. “You know as well as me that he would rather kill himself than bring harm to Konoha!”

Tsunade nodded, her lips a tight line. “Yes, normally, he would. But…”

But?

Tsunade sighed. “Just do what I told you. I understand you have worked on your Genjutsu skills in the last few years?”

“I am not going to use Genj…”

“Yes, you are, Sakura,” Tsunade snapped. “It’s an order. You use anything you have on this man. He is my most important asset and I want him out in the field at the end of this week at the latest. Do you understand?”

Well, she did. And she did not. And she did not like this one bit. But the prospect of finally seeing Kakashi Sensei again and maybe, just maybe, be able to help him… she would do it.

***

He looked… just as she remembered him, and then again, not at all. Was it because he had changed or was it because she no longer saw things with the eyes of a clueless Genin? Apart from him looking at her with two dark eyes instead of just one, everything was there. The unruly silver hair, the crinkly smile that lit up his eyes, the mask that hid the rest… but also a very muscular, lean body, only barely hidden by a sleeveless shirt, his long fingers not half-concealed by gloves. And… a red tattoo, shimmering in the artificial light like it was alive.

Sakura racked her brain, trying to remember whether she had ever seen him sleeveless before, wouldn’t she have had to, in so many years and on so many missions? It looked new though. She was old enough to know what these kind of marks meant on a Shinobi’s body. And this one, it looked like a seal, not just a tattoo.

She was also old enough to know he would not answer a single question about it. And she was certain Tsunade was deliberately rubbing this in her face. Her most important asset. Special operations. S-ranked missions or who knew, something even more demanding. No wonder she had not been able to find him. Was he even still living in his small apartment in the West of Konoha? Or in some military facility she knew for a fact existed, in the underground.

Seeing him was… exhilarating. To see his smile made her heart jump in joy. In her imagination, she had seen him crippled or dead, or, when she had forced herself to think happy thoughts, so in love with a woman he had forgotten his previous life and everybody in it. But here he was, a most capable Jonin, doing what too few were still capable of doing. Defending Konoha so that she, that all of them and their families could feel safe.

Sakura, who would have described herself as confident woman, felt awkward around him because of it. Would he not begrudge them this? People wanting comfortable lives while he put his life on the line every day?

It did not seem the case. Kakashi Sensei praised her, making her blush like a girl. He smiled at her, congratulated her on her horrible marriage. There was a certain sadness in him, hidden right behind his smiles, but that was it. All else was… normal. They even talked like normal people. Had they ever done that before?

At one stage she was tempted to try and catch a glimpse of his face underneath the mask like during their Team 7 days, but she knew how much it meant to him to hide it for whatever strange reasons, so she turned her head away to let him eat in private. It pleased her immensely that he liked her food. She hadn’t cooked for anyone in very long and she had felt self-conscious about the meagerness of it, but he seemed content, looking at her from the bed with a languid expression that was so him.

“Would you like to sleep?” she asked him, like she would ask any patient.

He shook his head, still looking.

“Tsunade sent you?” he asked.

Sakura nodded.

“She is a very smart woman,” Kakashi murmured, looking at his hands, flexing his fingers again.

Do not in any case let him perform any jutsu, Tsunade had repeated more than once. The Hokage had tied Kakashi Sensei with strong chakra suppressing chains just to make extra sure he could not unleash his powers. Sakura suddenly felt very nervous, watching him move his fingers like this. He was incredibly fast, she remembered very well. She moved closer to the bed, as if that would help at all to prevent him.

Kakashi looked up. “I understand,” he said, “you have nothing to fear from me, I assure you.”

Sakura nodded. There was not another person in the world she felt safer with.

“You want to examine me?” Kakashi asked.

Sakura nodded again.

Kakashi sighed a little. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing,” she replied quickly. “But I will have to… touch you.”

A look of amusement came into his eyes. “If it’s only that…”

It won’t be only that, Sakura thought, but she was sure he knew this. She had lessened the force of Tsunade’s chains for Kakashi to be able to move, at least if he did it slowly. He was currently peeling himself out of his blanket, swinging his long legs over the side of the bed in order to sit there.

“Will this do?”

Sakura swallowed. He was tall. Logically, he had always been, but she had never quite realized how much taller and stronger he was than her. Even with chakra suppressing chains around his limbs, he exuded an awe inspiring presence.

And he was damn handsome, mask or not.

Blame spring or her extended husband-less stage for noticing it, but whatever the reason, it would not do. He was a patient and as a doctor, she knew better than to be distracted by the bodies of her patients. She put her mind in the right mood easily and stepped closer. His eyes were of a very dark grey, so dark they almost appeared black. Dealing with only one of his eyes had been easier, she thought, but that thought was snuffed out deliberately when she lifted her hands to place them on his temples.

His skin was very warm, maybe a bit too warm. Was he running a fever? She made a mental note to check later.

“Will you trust me?” she asked a bit breathless.

He nodded.

“I will have to use Genjutsu,” she explained though she was certain he already knew that.

“I trust you, Sakura,” he said and for inexplicable reasons, the way he said it made her heart contract painfully for a moment.

“Look at me,” she demanded. He complied, though she saw the minuscule tightening of his mouth the small twitch of his eyelids. Had he ever before let anyone do Genjutsu on him willingly like this? His dark eyes settled on hers. She recognized the fear in them, though he was trying to hide it skillfully.

Eyes were the door into the mind. Someone who had wielded a Sharingan for so long would know even better than her what it meant to use it to suggest thoughts and actions to a target, forcing them to divulge information or act in a particular way.

“The less you resist, the quicker it is over,” she whispered. She really did not want to force herself into his mind.

A small nod. He probably did not know what a Jonin at his level could do to a doctor like her if he chose to resist. Or maybe he did.

“I want to get out of here,” he whispered, “I hate hospitals.”

Yes, indeed. There was several nicknames for this man. Copy Ninja. Hero of the Sharingan. Cold-blooded Kakashi. Even more ugly ones. But also: Konoha’s most difficult patient. For someone who hated them so much, he sure spent a lot of time in hospitals.

***

“Seals?”

Now Sakura could smell it. The Hokage had indulged with little restraint. It was not even 4 o’clock yet, but her speech was slurred and her skin flushed and the entire office reeked of her favorite sake.

“Did he resist?”

“Only a little,” Sakura replied, suppressing a shudder. She would refuse to do it again. It was horrifying to use these kind of techniques on a friend and what she had seen.... She had been veritably happy to be stopped by sealed walls almost as soon as she had entered her Sensei’s mind.

“Then you need to break the seals next.”

“What?”

Tsunade nodded. “It’s not good,” she added gravely.

It wasn’t, Sakura had to admit it too. Either Kakashi Sensei had sealed his own mind and had forgotten about it or somebody else had, which could mean all kinds of sinister things. For example, enemy Shinobis had hidden special commands in his mind to unleash him on Konoha when the time came.

“I cannot do that.”

“Cannot? Or do not want to,” Tsunade observed with slitted eyes.

It was a bit of both. “He is very strong,” Sakura began to explain. “I’m afraid that when I prod him too much, he might… lash out.”

“I bound him.”

“You cannot keep him this way for long,” Sakura said, “and you know it. You could damage his chakra permanently.”

“Dammit,” Tsunade swore and shook one of the bottles on her desk.

“You need to free him. You cannot keep him down there either, it’s very unhealthy to live underground like this.”

“Free him!” Tsunade shouted, making Sakura jump. “Are you out of your mind! He could be a frigging time bomb ready to destroy us all!”

“I promise to watch him closely,” Sakura said, feeling a bit desperate.

“How is that going to help us,” Tsunade growled, “he will just kill you first.”

“No,” Sakura said, shaking her head slowly, “I know he would never do that.”

“You have a lot of faith in that man,” Tsunade scoffed, though Sakura saw that she was thinking about her proposal.

“How are you going to watch him?” she then asked. “And what are we going to do about the seals?”

“He can stay with me for a few days. While I work on a solution. Together with him.”

Tsunade began to protest, but Sakura cut her off. “Hokage-sama, listen to me. He is one of our best. Of course he would know a solution. We would be stupid not to ask him. He will be very cooperative.”

Tsunade snorted. “Certainly. He’d do anything to be out of the hospital.”

Sakura nodded excitedly. “Exactly! And he certainly does not want to return. How many days will you give me? It will work, I am certain!”

Tsunade bit her lip. “You would take a strange man home with you?”

“He isn’t a stranger to me at all!” Sakura protested. “He is my Sensei!”

Tsunade looked at her askance. “I can’t argue with that. But Hatake Kakashi is also…”

What? Sakura waited for the Hokage to finish her sentence, but the busty woman did not. Instead, she said: “I need both of you in your positions again as soon as possible. Three days? No, that is probably too little. Five. Five days.”

“Thank you Hokage-sama!” Sakura shouted. How unexpectedly easy!

“Hey! You will check in regularly with me, do you…”

“Yes, Hokage-sama!”

And thus, Sakura ended up walking through the streets of Konoha with Kakashi Sensei in tow the next day. She was so excited, so nervous she thought she’d explode, but nobody seemed to notice anything strange, people hardly even looked their way and when they did, they just greeted them with reverence.

Kakashi had his hands buried in the pockets of his blue trousers and sauntered along leisurely, like they were not on a very tight clock to set that head of his straight. He had insisted on wearing an old Konoha flak jacket, not the “useless new design with no pockets” and Sakura had had to sit on her hands not to start chewing her nails, it would take ages to find one! But no, quite miraculously, Yamato had conjured up such a model within minutes and it even fit her Sensei perfectly. Luckily, Kakashi Sensei had not considered the new boots useless, those he put on without batting an eye. Gloves, headband, he had soon looked just like he always had. A backpack with a change of clothes and other utilities, that, too, Yamato had ready in an almost suspiciously short time.

It did cross Sakura’s mind that it went all a bit too smoothly, but maybe Tsunade was just too eager to get rid of him, before he could destroy his hospital room again.

But the closer they got to her and Sasuke’s apartment, the more nervous Sakura felt. Taking home a possibly lethal ninja suddenly didn’t seem like such a great idea anymore, now that her brain was thinking about the details of this arrangement. What had Tsunade wanted to say? But Hatake Kakashi is also…

“Sensei?” she asked, her voice much higher than normal from nervousness, which greatly annoyed her, “we need to go grocery shopping before going up. There is no food.”

“Oh?” he said and lifted his eyebrows a little, like he could not imagine a more boring piece of information.

His complete disinterest vexed her, but she better get used to his ways again. She had forgotten that he could be very infuriating and she was pretty certain she recalled correctly that he had always become much more infuriating as soon as anyone in Team 7 had shown they were affected by his ways. Five days suddenly didn’t seem short but very long.

Once inside the grocery store however, Kakashi carried the basket for her and even looked at the fruits on display with something that could pass as mildly interested. Sakura bought rice, some fresh udon noodles, vegetables, some apples and a bit of pork belly. Then she went back for milk and yogurt.

“Anything else you want, Sensei?” she asked her ninja shadow, whose drooping eyes made her tired by just looking at them.

“Tabacco,” he said.

“Sensei, you don’t smoke!” she exclaimed in shock.

“I don’t?” he mused, scratching his head. “I think I do. At least occasionally.”

“It’s not good for you,” she scolded him, but bought what he pointed at anyway.

“And would you like some alcohol too while we’re at it?” she scoffed.

“Yes,” he said with a deadpan face, taking her by surprise.

“You can’t drink in your current condition,” she said, “there are quite a few tablets Hokage Tsunade has told me you need to take.”

“Pah,” he scoffed and she was quite sure there was a pout under that mask of his.

“I pay,” he told her at the check-out, which she considered a pleasant surprise, until she realized he did not have to pay anything at all. The woman simply bowed to him and packed the things up much more neatly than she had ever done for Sakura.

“What was that?” Sakura whispered when they were outside.

“Shinobi ways,” Kakashi said mysteriously and smiled.

Maybe the woman owed him something, Sakura thought, watching his smug expression from the side. But how was that possible? She narrowed her eyes. What was he up to?

“Want me to carry it?” he asked.

Sakura glanced down, realizing she had grabbed all the groceries, leaving him with nothing to carry.

“N… no,” she stammered, not even sure why she felt embarrassed, “we’re already here. It’s on the top floor. A little hot in the summer, but it’s not summer yet and the light is really beautiful especially in the evenings and if you put your head out of the window…” she was babbling. “Sasuke is currently not here,” she blurted out, “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Yes, I know what kind of mission he’s on,” Kakashi replied curtly and put his head back to look up at the roof.

He did?

“Oh,” she said, but did not know what else to say. She did not. She had no clue where her husband was or for how long he would stay away this time and this Jonin who was never in Konoha when she went to look for him knew? Briefly she wondered whether… but Sasuke definitely had no tattoo. She would know that, wouldn’t she?

“The keys are in my bag,” she snapped.

Kakashi turned to look at her but didn’t move.

“Take them out?” she suggested.

“You want me to…” he eyed the bag dangling from her shoulder with apprehension.

“I don’t believe this,” Sakura muttered. “Here!” she said and pressed the two bags into his arms to get the keys out.

“I know better than to venture into unknown territory without proper preparation,” she heard him murmur behind her on the stairs and despite the irritation that she still felt, she had to laugh.

“Do you think my bag is boobytrapped?” she joked.

“It’s possible,” he replied drily.

She was out of breath at the top, he not at all. Was that the Shinobi way too? Be heavily injured and in hospital one day and still race up stairs the next without breaking a sweat?

“You’re out of form,” he observed in that matter-of-fact way of his, briefly sweeping his dark eyes over her body as if to check for excess weight.

“Try working sixteen hour shifts at the hospital and stay in shape,” she muttered, wishing he’d trip and fall, and turned the key in the lock.

“This is it,” she said stepping forward, “it’s not much. But it will do.”

“It’s fine,” he said and, maybe realizing he had pissed her off, he added a polite enough “thank you.”

She put the groceries on the kitchen counter after grabbing them from his arms and stowed away what needed to go in the fridge. Checking the clock - almost 2 pm - she filled two glasses of water and stepped out into the living room.

Kakashi was bent over the “Sakura-hime” cushion Sasuke had given her for their third anniversary, studying it closely. Slamming the water on the table, she rushed over to grab it off the sofa in mortification and hide it against her chest.

“Interesting choice of picture,” Kakashi commented with a snicker and turned around to have a look at the view.

One of the reasons she had insisted they take this apartment despite its relative smallness was the view of the Hokage mountain. On nice afternoons like this one, their faces were very clear and it seemed like they were looking straight at them. Sasuke had indulged her, though he had said he hated their stupid faces. To this day, she was often not sure he meant what he said.

“Impressive,” Kakashi said.

They stood there for a while in silence and looked at their previous village leaders, and when Sakura snuck a glimpse at her Sensei’s face, it was entirely still and tranquil. She looked at it a bit longer than was polite, but it fascinated her how despite the mask that covered so much, it revealed a lot about his state of mind.

“It is a nice apartment,” Kakashi Sensei finally said and turned to her with a crinkly smile.

“We do not have a guest room,” Sakura confessed, “I was thinking you could…” she was about to offer him her bedroom, not that she had thought about it long enough.

“Here will do,” Kakashi said and flopped down on the sofa.

“It’s too small,” Sakura feared.

“Hard grounds, small sofas, large soft beds… it’s all the same to me,” he said, yawned, put his hands underneath his head and closed his eyes. “Do not worry,” he murmured sleepily, “I will be out of your hair in no time.”

“Sensei,” she said, “if you run away before we have fixed what is wrong with your memories, Tsunade will punish me most horribly.”

“Why would I run away,” he said languidly, “it’s not often that I’m invited to sleepovers with old friends.”

Why was her heart starting to beat faster?

“Sensei, please, don’t get the wrong idea, I…”

He opened his eyes to look at her. “No, I’m not getting the wrong idea. But maybe you are, so let me be clear: I am truly very grateful you got me out of there. And I will do anything it takes to not go back.”

She nodded anxiously, but he had already closed his eyes again. Sakura looked at her guest for a while, unsure what to do next. He did not move again. Only his chest rose and fell regularly.

He had fallen asleep. Just like that, like he did not have a care in the world.

But she saw it, the telltale sign of worry between his brows. After the little she had seen inside his mind, she was surprised he was able to sleep at all.

 

Chapter Text

The blackness was absolute. The only things able to emerge from it were nameless shadows with no substance, soundless and deadly.

The liquid dripping from the ceiling caressed his skin like the fingers of ghosts.

He turned his face upwards, opening his mouth.

When was the last time he had had sustenance? These deaths could give him life.

The blood of the innocent and the blood of the guilty tasted exactly the same. But it did not weigh the same. Whereas the blood of the guilty was light and could be washed off with time, the blood of the innocent was heavy and lingered forever. It clung to the soul and dragged it down until it was crushed by it.

Only those with no souls were the ones who could be victorious.

Not long and his would stop clinging onto him so stubbornly as well.

The darkness came at him with no warning, when he lost his grip on wakefulness.

A thousand needles, piercing deep, where it hurt the most.

A thousand knives, each cutting to the bone.

A thousand shadow clones ripping out pieces of his flesh.

To die would have been a blessing.

Why could he not forget his name and be forever done with it?

“Kakashi Sensei?”

He attacked instantly.

Moving this fast turned his surroundings into a dizzying blur of color and light. Without the Sharingan, the tunnel vision was terrible - and yet, he recognized pink hair and a flash of green eyes right before his kunai reached her throat. Shock lacing through him, he dropped his weapon while pivoting his body to the side in midair, leaving himself wide open for a counterattack.

She defended herself. Lightning quick, Sakura struck three, four, five pressure points on his chest with her extended index fingers. Numbing pain blossomed outwards from where her chakra ripped into his vital organs as he was thrown backwards onto the sofa.

“Sensei!” Sakura cried, “oh no, oh no! What have I done!”

Remarkable, Kakashi thought as his heart stopped and his vision began to darken, just how good she had become. His match even? She had potential for the next Hokage.

Just as quickly as she had wielded deadly force, her hands transformed themselves into healing tools, sending strong bursts of chakra into his body. Mere moments after, the blood began pounding through his restored veins, air returned to his lungs. Death still did not want him.

“I just reacted, I did not… Sensei, I...”

He grabbed her hand and pressed it briefly.

“Drop the Sensei,” he whispered. Clearly, he had outlived that role. The honorifics had never sat well with him anyway.

“Sens… how… I am so, so…”

“It’s fine, Sakura,” he urged her, his voice gaining strength, “I almost killed you. I am sorry.”

“You were having a very bad dream,” she said and now he saw the tears glistening in her eyes with an upsurge of guilt, “I wanted to wake you up. And then… it happened too fast.”

Her lower lips was quivering as she bravely held back her tears. She must be so shocked. Now that he realized fully what had almost happened, his breath wanted to stop again.

There could be no doubt, he had to leave. This very moment.

It had never been remotely proper that he had come here, but his justified curiosity to see what game Tsunade was playing easily outweighed the meager sense of propriety he possessed. Now that he knew he was a threat to her like this, he had to make sure to remove himself from her vicinity.

Only, he did not want to leave. Her hands were still sending chakra into his body, even when it had to be clear to her that she had reversed all the damage and he was completely fine. It was so warm, so comforting, like soaking in a hot bath after a difficult mission, like being tucked in bed while it stormed outside, like… the embrace of a loved person after a very bad day.

“I made some coffee,” Sakura said in a small voice. She stopped applying chakra, regrettably, but this whole disaster must have cost her so much energy already, how could he be selfish and wish for more? He sat up quickly, noticing she threw him worried glances from the side as if she could not shake feeling guilty.

“Exactly what I need,” he said evenly and smiled at her, making sure his voice did not betray how much he himself was shaken.

Turning his face away, he took very small sips of the scaldingly hot coffee she served him in a large, blue mug and tried to focus his mind. It was around 5 pm, he guessed after checking the light outside, so he had slept for almost three hours, effectively wasting a lot of her precious time.

“I am ready,” he said after three more sips, putting down the mug and facing her. She must have realized how hard it was for him to let her perform Genjutsu, but his sensitivities were inconsequential in this situation.

“Sensei, I…,” she still looked much too spooked.

“Drop the Sensei,” he repeated, “and if I say I am ready, I am. Let’s get this done. I cannot stay here for much longer.”

She frowned, then nodded reluctantly. “No Genjutsu this time, I am not skilled enough. I will just ask you a few questions to find out what you remember and what you don’t remember to find a pattern.”

Not skilled enough? That was a lie. He had hardly felt anything when she had entered his mind the day before, which was scary enough. Sparing him the sensation a second time was done for his sake only and this realization just made it much clearer to him that he had no business here.

“What is the last thing you remember, Sensei?” she asked with her gentle voice, though obviously finding it difficult to look him into the eyes.

“Having a nightmare and almost cutting your throat after waking up,” he began, thinking she might never feel comfortable enough around him to address him more casually than as her teacher. “Oh, and suffering for it rightfully, though I’d have deserved much more. Before, I looked at Hokage Mountain with you. Before we went grocery shopping, before, I put on my clothes in that hospital. Before, you came to get me out. Before, I was… I was interrogated by Yamato. Before, I woke up in chains with Lady Tsunade in the room. Before…”

Blank. A mission? It would have had to be. He frowned, racking his brain for anything that made sense, coming up with absolutely nothing. It was like staring at a wall of very thick fog hiding what was behind it completely.

“Take your time,” Sakura said.

He remembered dying. But that had to be a dream? He looked at his hands, flexing his fingers. Did he remember all the jutsu he had previously known? He ran through them in his mind, it was a very long list.

“I do not remember losing my Sharingan,” he told her, though saying it out loud was strangely embarrassing.

“Do you remember the 4th Shinobi World War? You commanded the Third Division.”

Glimpses. Maybe. But his dreams were always so violent, how could he be sure these were real memories? He thought it more honest to shake his head.

“Be glad,” Sakura said quietly and sounded so sad, Kakashi instinctively took her hand to give some comfort. She tensed immediately at the contact of their skin so he dropped it, scolding himself for such pointless gestures that did not respect the necessary boundaries.

“Let’s try and find out the last thing you remember?” she suggested, forcing her mouth into a tight-lipped smile.

Was he making her this uncomfortable? She was probably afraid of him after he had attacked her, Kakashi thought with some trepidation, which made his resolve to leave grow once more.

“You don’t need to do this, Sakura,” he told her firmly, “I can go back. I know that you…”

“No,” she cut him off. “No, I trust you. I should know better than to touch a sleeping Jonin, especially one who...”

One who... what? He sighed. One who was so bad he let people come close enough to touch him in his sleep?

“How often do you have bad dreams?” she asked carefully. “It’s okay if you do not want to answer,” she quickly added.

“Then I won’t answer,” he said lightly and smiled again.

The hell he would tell her that he had never had any good dreams in his entire life, as far as he remembered. It would not help recover his memories and he knew she would react shocked and with sympathy - and she was already much too kind and nice to him as it were.

She frowned at him, but was looking at him more directly. He knew she was feisty by nature and not timid, so this was progress.

“Who is watching your dogs while you're gone?”

Dogs? Oh yes, his Ninken. “My… girlfriend?” That didn’t sound right, he thought as his lips formed the words. His dogs didn’t even need to be watched, all he ever did was summon them, they were fully self-sufficient.

“You have a girlfriend?” she sounded truly astonished.

“Wouldn't I have?” he asked back.

“Is it... Anko?”

Anko Mitarashi! He smiled fondly at the memories. Girlfriend was probably the wrong word, but they had had a very good time together. Ages ago.

“It is?” Sakura sounded incredulous and Kakashi lifted his eyebrows in amusement.

“Sakura,” he said, “I do not think that doctors usually take an interest in their patient’s private lives.”

She blushed crimson red and he instantly regretted embarrassing her. As if he was behaving like a normal patient. Sitting in a married woman’s living room when her husband wasn’t around.

“We saw you two together before the Chunin exams,” Sakura explained hastily, “I thought it would be good to see whether you remember.”

“Yes, I do remember. You were tiny, awkward squirts back then”, he laughed, “I am still surprised all of you passed!”

Thinking about Anko distracted him. How was she doing, he wondered? Another world war could only mean one thing... too many dead bodies. But from Sakura’s reaction, he could guess Anko was still alive, which was a relief.

“So you remember all that,” Sasuke said, sounding thoughtful. “Do you remember Sasuke joining Orochimaru?”

Of course he did.

“And you know where he is. So it’s not like you do not remember anything after the war. It’s just like… some things have been erased.”

“What did you see when you used Genjutsu?” Kakashi asked Sakura, thinking that dancing around the truth did nobody a favor, least himself.

“Seals,” she admitted.

Seals.

Seals?!

Kakashi began ripping his clothes off as fast as he could.

“What are you doing?” Sakura squealed, but he could not pay attention to her sensitivities now. How stupid he was. Of course there would be seals, it was the first thing they used to check for after retrieving prisoners from their enemies. Juinjutsu was the go-to technique of whom they were up against, why had nobody thought of this before?

“You have to help me check for curse seals,” he urged her. “Use your chakra.”

“Curse…,” she gasped, “but Sensei, who would...?”

“Look for a strange mark,” he said, frantically starting to look himself, “anything that looks off.”

“But couldn’t they also be…”

“Just look!” he bellowed. Of course they could be hidden, only activating when the one applying the seal wanted it activated, but he did not want to think of that possibility right now.

Her shaking hands danced over his skin. Not fast enough. Not fast enough! He would have to do it himself.

Gritting his teeth, feeling such a repulsion he thought he might have to throw up, he stormed into the direction of where he guessed the bathroom was.

***

Her heart pounding very fast, her hands knotted in her lap, Sakura stared at the door he had slammed shut behind himself with such force, it might as well have shattered all the glass in her apartment.

Obviously, taking home a lethal ninja had been the mistake she had briefly thought it was. He was… very unstable. Tsunade must have known this. So why had she let her do it with hardly any resistance?

Slowly, Sakura pushed herself up and went to the kitchen on shaking legs. Feeling bitter at not counting much in the greater scheme of things wouldn’t help at all, she knew that. She took out her favorite glass with the silly smiling cats from the cabinet, opened the fridge and looked for the lemonade she had made a few days ago.

It was much too sour and she scrunched her face up as a reaction.

There were no marks on Kakashi Sensei’s body, at least not on the part she had gotten to see and… she briefly shuddered at the thought, but that was probably just the lemonade… touch. And indeed, no marks, not even on his upper arm. Just warm, slightly tanned, impeccable skin.

So that red tattoo she had noticed in the hospital, it was a seal like she had suspected. One that only activated under special circumstances. But it was not Juinjutsu, which was done against the will of the wearer most of the time. It was Fūinjutsu, she was quite certain. But what was it sealing in? And why was it disguised as a black ops mark? Kakashi had not seen surprised to see that tattoo in the hospital, so he knew he had it. Maybe he had just forgotten what it was for. Or he knew it and could not speak about it?

Sakura stiffened when she heard him open the bathroom door. His soft footsteps crossed the living room. Then, a window was opened swiftly and… silence.

Oh no.

Jumping into action, she raced into the living room herself - which was empty. A gentle wind was blowing through the open window, bringing with it the faint scent of cherry blossoms.

Tsunade would rip her head off. Or much worse.

Hastily, Sakura climbed out on the ledge, very briefly feeling dizziness wash over her before she sternly reminded herself she was a trained ninja who most certainly felt no vertigo. Gingerly, she climbed upwards to see whether she could at least guess where he had gone… and found Kakashi sitting at the top, smoking a cigarette he must have had among his belongings, one leg dangling, the other tucked up for him to rest his chin on, looking in her direction with an unreadable expression behind his mask.

“Oh,” she said, feeling very glad he had not left. He had put his sleeveless shirt back on was wearing his trousers all properly.

“I have… never been up here,” she said, awkwardly pulling herself up next to him.

Kakashi said nothing, just moved over a little and turned his head away to look towards Hokage Mountain. He was tense, she could see it, tense and unhappy. In the light of the slowly setting sun, he looked very young, barely older than her and for a very brief moment, she found herself transported back to those days, the days before the Chunin exams. It had been so… carefree, at least for her, before they had met Orochimaru in the forest for the first time, before the mess with Sasuke and Orochimaru’s Cursed Seal of Heaven. But she realized it had never been carefree for this man.

At almost forty years of age, and after serving in two Shinobi world wars, a Jonin should no longer have to go on so many active missions. They should be able to proctor exams, occasionally teach chunins and otherwise enjoy life with their families. What sad fate that circumstances did not allow such well-deserved leisure.

Sakura did remember being curious about Kakashi’s life when they had been under his tutelage. But he was a very private man, not sharing even the tiniest bit of information. For a while, Naruto had put a lot of energy into uncovering his face, but to no avail. It had been in the course of this that they had seen him going into an ice cream place with Anko. She remembered how much that had excited her. She wanted her Sensei to be happy!

Ah… Sakura understood why Kakashi Sensei’s mind had suddenly veered off in such a strange direction. Anko! As one of Orochimaru’s students, she also wore the Cursed Seal of Heaven.

“Do you want to go see Anko-san?” she asked him, thinking she had to encourage this. If his missions were anything like Sasuke’s, he stayed away for months.

He said nothing, not giving any indication he had even heard her.

“Would she not be waiting?” she added. Too nosy, dammit! she scolded herself, he had already made it clear he did not want to talk about his relationships, what was she thinking?

“Most definitely not,” he replied curtly.

Oh? What did that mean? She looked at him to see whether he looked regretful, but he did not. They had broken up? It had never been anything… more than a fling? Why was she so… curious?

“You do not have to make me feel better,” he told her with a sigh. “You have already done much more than you should.”

“But Sensei, there is no curse seal, am I right?”

He sighed again. “You are right, I could not find anything either. But the mere thought triggered a very deep seated fear in me. Don’t you think it’s something to explore further?”

A fear? He had never had a curse seal though, or did he? Should she ask him about the tattoo?

“The only seal I am sure you have is…” she pointed at his arm.

He glanced at the spot where it had been visible and nodded in agreement. There it was again, she was certain: He knew exactly what that mark meant and how he had gotten it.

“Besides, Orochimaru is dead,” Sakura ventured on.

“He is not,” Kakashi Sensei said with such authority she stared at him in surprise.

“Just forget all this,” he added with a small smile, “we will do our best to keep danger away from the village so that everybody here can live the lives they deserve.”

“What danger, Sensei?” she blurted out. It had not escaped her notice how worried Tsunade looked lately. So it was something concrete! But of course… it would be classified.

“I told you to forget it,” Kakashi said. “Can you break the seals?”

“Sensei…”

“I know you can,” he said and looked straight at her, the intensity of his eyes giving her a little start. “You tend to understate your talents, but you have grown very powerful over the years. Your defense before…”

His eyes dropped to her hands and for a brief moment, she felt like pulling them away, thinking he might grab them otherwise, but he just looked, making her blush all over.

“... I wish I still had my Sharingan,” he sighed.

“You keep saying that,” Sakura said with a frown, “but Sensei, you are by no means the worse Shinobi without it.”

Kakashi laughed. “It gives me relief to see that goodness remains in this world and I may tell myself that I had a little part in it.”

“A large part!” she retorted, blushing even more deeply when he looked up, seemingly surprised.

“It is true, Sensei,” she stammered, “I always wanted to become as strong and righteous as you.”

“As me?” he snorted. “I remember you being focused on one person, which in the end turned out to be exactly what you needed to become strong.”

“Oh, you mean Sasuke?”

It was true, Sakura mused, she had been extremely obsessed with Sasuke for many, many years, but that did not mean her Sensei had not left an equally important impression.

“Whom else could I mean,” he chuckled. “Though I remember telling you many times that being predictable is not a good trait for a Shinobi.”

Was he talking about her getting married to her childhood crush? Kakashi stubbed out the cigarette and flicked it off the roof. She frowned.

“Sorry,” he said, noticing it. “I’ll go get it.”

“N… no,” Sakura hurried to say, still feeling a bit precarious this high up and rather glad he was next to her, certainly capable of catching her should she fall. “It’s alright.”

“Will you remove the seals?” he asked again, sounding more urgent.

There were so many things that could go wrong, she didn’t even know where to begin thinking about the risks.

“Yes,” she said before she could start thinking about them.

Her answer seemed to be exactly what he had needed to hear. Now truly smiling for the first time after being shocked awake by her touch, he sprang up. His hair looked aflame for a short moment as the last ray of sunshine sneaking in from behind the mountain lit it up in its red-golden light.

“S… sit down,” she squeaked in horror, imagining all kinds of horrible scenarios of him falling down and dying, but that was just silly. He was capable of walking across roofs on his little fingers with no danger to himself.

“You are so out of shape,” he said viciously and pulled her up by the hands before she could prevent it. Vertigo overcame her and in panic, she grabbed onto what was near - him, throwing her hands around his midriff, instantly feeling… safe.

“Come on,” he said into her ear, his arms tightening around her in turn for a brief moment, “Haruno, I taught you better, didn’t I?”

And he pushed her away from himself with force, making her fall backwards, her heart in her throat for a short, heartstopping moment… grabbing her hand and pulling her along as he began running, her feet slipping, then finding traction, racing across the rooftops, faster and faster, making her feel… so alive.

She laughed breathlessly as her body remembered everything and her chakra focused more and more effortlessly on the soles of her feet.

He was testing her limits, gradually upping his speed. She did not think she could ever be as fast as him, but she would push herself to go faster, just to make him smile at her all pleased.

He jumped, she followed his lead. Another jump, further, more forceful, and she tried to land as featherlight and soundless as him, not like a ton of bricks, which would only scare the inhabitants of Konoha who were probably cooking dinner below them.

Sakura threw him a look from the side. No, he was mistaken if he thought she had only ever noticed Sasuke. There was no other Shinobi that compared to Hatake Kakashi. It wasn’t only his immense skills and fabled talent. It was the whole package. The mystery. The devotion. The fierce loyalty.

But she had been a girl back then, not capable of anything but shallow crushes. Now she was that no longer. And as they slowed down, returned to the rooftop of her apartment, her cheeks red from the wind and the exhilaration she felt, she wondered.

How different would her life be, had she met Hatake Kakashi for the first time as an adult?

 

Chapter Text

It was one of the most basic human needs to be loved. A gentle touch, an encouraging smile, a few friendly words... it did not take much to make you feel like you belonged and only a little more to become thoroughly addicted to touches, smiles, and words.

But with being loved came the wish to love back, to value somebody else more than yourself. It was one of the greatest weaknesses an elite shinobi had to overcome in order to be a blade that could be wielded with the necessary precision and mercilessness.

And yet, the most meaningful deaths Kakashi had ever witnessed had all been the sacrifices of people who loved someone more than themselves. Those memories lingered and a foolish part of him yearned to be like them. A lifetime of solitude in the service of Konoha, was it enough?

Yes. It had to be enough. The foolish part could be kept at bay fairly easily. He knew too well how devastating it was to lose those you had grown attached to, those who gave you the warm feelings of belonging. Repeated grief... it shattered the world and you never fully recovered from it.

But even during his darkest hours, he had retained some of his humanity, despite those who had tried to take it from him. He was glad about it on this day, on Konoha's rooftops - because how else could he have felt happy to have returned confidence and joy to someone who deserved it? And yet, his foolish side knew that forming attachments was not something he could afford. Even if Tsunade, with her keen eye for lonely hearts, was thinking him fool enough to forget this most basic rule. It should have vexed him greatly to be considered so predictable, but the situation he found himself in intrigued him enough to wait quietly and see what she would try to do next.

Until then: Just feel warm a little longer. A gentle smile, take it and remember it in that place of darkness you must return to again.

***

Here they were, standing on the rooftop in the fading light of this strange day, smiling at each other. It felt ... it felt so right even if Sakura knew very well that thinking she would love to run over rooftops with him more often was probably not so right.

"Let me cook something," she said, still happily bathing in her adrenaline and endorphin high, just as he said "Can I buy you something for dinner?" at the very same time.

There was a small pause, during which she waited for him to say something more. Only, he didn't, he just continued that signature smile of his that was incredibly disarming, even if you weren't armed at all.

"Those udon noodles we bought don't keep long, they're fresh," she said, regretting that she was so frugal. She would have liked to take him up on his offer, but letting food go bad? She could not do that.

"If you let me help?" he shrugged and lithely slid down the side of the roof that led to her apartment, disappearing from view with an elegant jump dive.

Show off.

She grinned and followed after him a bit more slowly, no need to overdo it after already using so much chakra today.

Kakashi waited at the open window, extending his hand to help her in. The gesture was probably nothing special, but it did seem very gallant to Sakura. No wonder, at the hospital, there was nobody who had time to spare for something like it, always rushing from this room to the next to prevent death. As she gripped his fingers tightly to climb in, Sakura noticed he had put on his blue Shinobi shirt over the one with no sleeves and it was already buttoned up. Remarkably fast.

Fifteen minutes later, she felt like screaming in annoyance because he was so very slow. Very carefully, he cut each piece of vegetable into perfect tiny squares and arranged them prettily on a series of plates. Snow peas, shimeji mushrooms, corn kernels, fresh bean sprouts - yes, those too! - spinach, tomatoes.

"Why don't you gi..." she attempted to take the cutting board and knife from him to speed things up, but "I'm almost done," he assured her, half-turning to block off her hand and continuing his very slow progress with a look of concentration on his half-hidden face.

Could it be due to her mounting impatience that she grabbed that very expensive sake from the cupboard next? It had been given to her by the grateful family of a patient a few years ago, when a treatment she had suggested worked a miracle. Ever since, it had wasted away behind the surplus rice and other stored goods, only occasionally making an appearance in her mind as sad, abandoned bottle she had no use for, giving her a mild pang of misplaced guilt.

After dusting the large bottle off and studying the label though she knew nothing about alcohol, Sakura decided to open it.

"That one should be chilled," Kakashi said from where he sat, without even looking up. "Bring it here."

And before she could tell him that Tsunade had made it clearer than clear that she should not allow him to use any Jutsu as long as it wasn't known what afflicted him, he had performed the necessary hand signs to send a burst of ice into the bottle, briefly cooling the entire room.

How irritating. Could he not jutsu-cut the vegetables too!?

She went to the cupboard to get out the two brown sake cups with the pretty cherry blossom design she knew she owned, thinking it would be extremely rude not to offer him any. But that just reminded her... taking only one out and putting it down next to the bottle, she went to the entrance to get the pill dispensers from her bag. And because that brought her near the bathroom, she decided to use this opportunity to relieve herself, it was high time.

As soon as she had closed the door, she wanted to die from embarrassment. All her intimate belongings were on full display! Birth control pills. Sanitary pads. Make up. And worst of all, her underwear that she had hung up to dry the day before, some of it rather revealing - because she had decided that those needed washing too, even though she never got to wear it.

Silently screeching, she quickly took it all down and stowed away her personal belongings where he could no longer see them. She also took out two towels and a washcloth for her guest and put it on the sofa for him to use later.

Back in the kitchen, she noticed he was done with his tiny vegetable cubes. Finally! Putting down the pills in front of him, she said: "You need to take those."

He frowned deeply.

"Tsunade said so," Sakura added, using a stern doctor's voice.

Kakashi lifted up the transparent pill dispenser and looked at them, probably counting them like her. Eight pieces. A day. That was a lot, Sakura thought. What were they for? He seemed healthy enough, she had checked his body after she had almost killed him, there was nothing amiss and though he had depleted his chakra during his previous mission, he was certainly gaining it back quickly too.

"No," he said with emphasis and put the pills down on the table.

Oh, great. Konoha's most difficult patient was sitting in her kitchen and refused to take his medication. What now?

"But you have to!" she tried her luck.

"What are you going to do about it?" Kakashi murmured and gave the container a hard push with his fingers.

She could have said send you back to the hospital, but that seemed like a mean and pointless threat to make because she did not plan to do that. Or she could have said I will let you starve, but that seemed very cruel too.

So she said: "I will drink this whole bottle of sake myself if you do not take them."

Which was... just stupid. She had told him he couldn't drink because of the medication. And now she was saying he could drink if he took his medication?

"Oh, you will?" he said slowly, a mischievous gleam coming into his eyes. "It will be my pleasure to watch you do it."

"Why won't you just do what you're told!" she exclaimed, feeling stupid, grabbing the plates in front of him and walking over to the stove, where the stock for the soup was boiling. She started to throw his tiny cubes in with a deliberate lack of gratefulness for his meticulous handiwork.

Realizing the next moment he was standing right behind her looking over her shoulder, she suppressed a scream.

"Don't... sneak up on me like this!" she exclaimed, her heart beating very fast.

"Sorry," he said evenly and not sounding sorry at all, "it's hard to change one's habits at my age. But the soup is boiling too hard, this will spoil the vegetables."

Now he was a cooking expert? If he took that long to cut things, he would never get a single dish done! Pressing her lips together angrily, she turned down the heat.

"Why did you not cook the noodles first?" he asked, picking up the udon package from the counter and looking at its white, fat contents. "And did you not buy pork belly too?"

Was he criticising her?!

"Yes, I bought pork belly, but you might remember, we were running around outside until recently, so I haven't had time to..."

"Alright, alright," he said smoothly and grinned down at her, "I was just asking. Let me take care of the pork belly while you... sit over there and drink a whole bottle of sake."

Ah, he was obviously enjoying himself. And she had lost so thoroughly, with not even a chance to get him to take these pills. Sitting down with an angry huff, she decided to let him struggle with the soup alone, what did she care.

After filling her cup, she began sipping steadily just to prove to him she had no issue drinking a whole bottle by herself. Though frankly, she hadn't had anything to drink in months and just the one little cup was going to her head pretty fast. How strong was sake anyway? She tried to see whether it was indicated on the label but she couldn't make it out.

"Do you have eggs?" he asked.

"In the fridge," she replied curtly, watching him rummage through its contents, taking out two eggs and white miso paste. Had he cut the vegetables so slowly to vex her? Watching him move around quite swiftly, checking her cupboards and drawers for things he needed, she came to the conclusion that it was possible. It started to smell very good. So he did know what he was doing, huh.

"Mirin?" he asked, throwing her a glance over his shoulder.

"Don't have it," she murmured. She never used enough of it and it went bad.

"There's a lot of sake to go," he commented, pointing at the bottle, "you should speed up a little."

Definitely enjoying himself. She filled her cup again and drank it down, immediately filling it a third time and a fourth time.

"You should take your medication," she told him, "there must be a good reason why Tsunade gave me those pills for you."

"Probably," he agreed, but continued doing this and that without seeming inclined to humor her.

"We could share this sake," she said, "and you take the pills afterwards."

"Hm, I suppose I could," he said, briefly slowing down his movements. So he was listening? Hopeful, she got up to get the second cup out of the cupboard, shoving him aside with her hip.

Had she just done that?!

She went on her tiptoes and reached up but he was faster, closing his finger around the cup just as she closed her fingers... around his fingers.

She froze.

"Is this a very valuable cup?" he asked with a smirk, "so that we need to take it down together?"

She blushed crimson red, letting go like she had touched the hot stove and for a brief moment, she considered running out of the kitchen to hide her burning face. But she was no little girl anymore, why was she so timid around him?

Murmuring encouragements to herself under her breath, she returned to the table and poured herself another cup.

"We share and then I take the pills," he said, "deal?"

The doctor in her screamed a big fat "no" at her, but the doctor in her was also already quite tipsy and didn't seem to care as much as she should. It had been a farce from the beginning anyway, how could anyone take a real patient home?

"Deal," she said and filled his cup to the rim.

"Kanpai!" he cheered and clinked his cup to hers, turning back to the stove happily, booty in hand.

I need to think, Sakura thought, because there was something bugging her, but this was easier thought than done. How many cups had she had?

"Kakashi Sen..."

"Drop the Sensei," he said.

The mere thought of calling him anything else gave her palpitations. And that... that was what bugged her... she acted strangely around him, like... like a schoolgirl with a crush.

Dammit.

It's because I'm attracted to him, she realized with an extensive flutter in her stomach. Well done, Haruno. You meet him again after this long and now you're crushing on him? You're a married woman!

This wasn't good. Watching this tall, handsome man move around in her tiny kitchen like he owned it did not help one bit. She noticed the fluidity of his movements, the energy of his presence and... she blushed again. Those trousers were very well cut.

A sneaking suspicion came over her.

Tsunade. What if she had already put substances into the water? It would most certainly explain her state of confusion! Kakashi didn't seem affected at all though, paying her no undue attention whatsoever. Was it because only she had drunk unboiled tap water? Or.. why should he be, she thought with a rueful shake of her head, he probably had no lack of women throwing themselves at him.

"You're doing well," he said at her ear, scaring her into another tiny squeal. "But you're skittish," he observed and took the bottle to fill his cup again.

And then, he sat down, stretching his long legs to the side and resting his chin on his interlocked hands to watch the pots. She was getting hungrier by the second. Not much longer and she would be salivating.

The table in the kitchen was very small, but it fit nicely against the wall, leaving enough room to move about and she often had her breakfast here, the light was lovely in the mornings. There were two proper chairs to each side and one stool at the slightly longer edge for the unlikely case that three people would want to sit in this cramped space. Since everything was so small, he was sitting very close to her and all she could do was stare helplessly from the side at his masked face, thinking that his nose looked like a fine nose and that she could see the contours of his lips this way.

"So," he said, "what do you think it is?"

"What... is?" she gulped, blinking rapidly.

"Tsunade's plan," he said grimly, turning his dark eyes on her.

Babies, Sakura thought with another flutter in her stomach, she wants babies, many Hatake babies, little Jonin as good as you...

"Sakura?" Kakashi asked with a slight frown.

"Y...yes?"

"Share your suspicions with me. I have a few myself, but I am unsure."

"Ba...," she blurted out before she could stop herself, but her mouth did not get to finish forming the words because he sprang up at a hissing sound from the stove. Liquid from one of the pots had boiled over and he quickly put it to rights before turning his attention back to her.

"You were saying? Bait? Who is bait?" he sat back down and she continued her staring, thinking he really had not aged at all. What kind of diet was he normally on? Her eyes fell on the pills in front of them.

"Those," she said to distract herself, but also because she suddenly had an inkling why there were so many. She knew of the existence of soldier enhancement pills, though the details of those were classified. An elite ninja nearing forty years of age with no retirement in sight...

"The pills?" he asked surprised, shifting his eyes to the pill dispensers too.

"She knows I will be able to make you take them," she lied, "and that is of the utmost importance."

"You think so?" he wondered, looking rather puzzled. And so very cute with that tousled silver hair of his that she felt like ruffling. Sakura hit her forehead with her hand to jolt that brain of hers out of its current mode.

"Do you have another idea?" he said and bent forward, eager to hear about it.

"Those are soldier enhancement pills," she said, "am I right?" Not that she knew much about these kind of drugs, apart from the fact that they existed.

He looked down at them again. "Hm," he mused, "maybe... Yes, they could be."

"You know that it's dangerous to take them for too long?" she snapped, tapping into the anger that stirred in her all of a sudden, thinking anger would save her mind from going to places it should not go. "These pills leave you utterly exhausted and if you're unlucky, dying."

"Then I must be lucky because I'm not dead yet," he said and smiled. "But you are right. I should take them."

No, don't! she wanted to tell him, but that would not do. He probably needed them.

He got up to take a glass out of the cupboard, filling it with water to the rim. Why the trepidation? She looked on helplessly, feeling trapped and manipulated. And then she closed her eyes for a bit because she was feeling extremely dizzy.

"Here," he said and when she opened her eyes, he had put a bowl of steaming and deliciously smelling soup in front of her, "eat. And stop drinking sake or you'll feel sick tomorrow."

Chopsticks and a spoon he put on the table too and a paper napkin, all things he must have found going through her kitchen cupboards while she had sat here useless and increasingly drunk.

"Are you not eating?" she pressed out.

"Afterwards," he said, making a small gesture with his chin towards the pills, "maybe."

The tone of his voice was neutral, but she still saw it very clearly - her Sensei wanted to step back into his shell. It had always been there, hiding who he really was very efficiently. There had been a time she had thought it would be nice to be able to break that shell and see what it was hiding. But she had come to the conclusion that people had a right to their shells and it was no business of hers to meddle with their need for reclusiveness.

Was it something to be proud of, that he had briefly come out of his to take her out of hers? Or should she be afraid... afraid that the lonely comfort her shell had afforded her all these years could become useless going forward because she now knew just how lonely it had been - and that there was a happiness outside that was not hers to crave.

A single moment of happiness could change it all, even if it was already gone, maybe never to return.

***

Eight pills. They were all small and of an overall brownish color, but with some variation in their hue, two of them glittering metallic in the warm artificial light of Sakura's living room. Kakashi had no recollection at all what they were for and he couldn't even be sure he had ever known, but as a shinobi of Konoha, he could not refuse his Hokage's order to take them.

He should not even question his superior's motives, shouldn't he.

And yet, here he sat and looked at the pills for the longest time as if that could help him decide what to do next. Maybe Sakura was right. Maybe there was no grand plan. Maybe Tsunade had really asked Sakura to help because she believed his former student could persuade him to do what he would naturally be reluctant to do.

Eight pills.

Just like 361, the overall number of pressure points on a human's body, eight was a meaningful number to him. A jonin's overall ability was proportional to his ability to control, conserve and focus his chakra, nothing more and nothing less. Some had more, some had less, some were more talented, some less so, some worked harder, some not so hard.

But there was a limit to the amount of chakra any individual could release. The number of special tenketsu on a person's Chakra Pathway System to make a body weaker than it could be, the protection mechanism to make sure it would not expire too soon was eight.

Opening the Eight Gates was a feat only very few Shinobi had ever mastered. If it worked, they briefly became the most powerful beings in the universe. Usually, it resulted in their death.

Kakashi opened the pill dispenser. The only way to find out what these pills were for was to swallow them.

With a sigh, he closed it again. If his suspicion was correct and these pills would affect his Gates, he would not want to sit around in Sakura's living room after taking them. So he better made sure she was alright first.

He got up quietly and went back into the kitchen.

Sakura's head was on the table, her arms hanging down by her sides. The smell of sake mixed with the scent of cold udon soup made him feel a little guilty. He should have stopped her from drinking so much alcohol. But then again, she was a grown woman now, fully capable of her own decisions.

She had cleaned out her bowl, he saw, and that made him smile quite unexpectedly. He had not cooked for many people in his life. That she had liked the soup pleased him a lot.

"Sakura," he said softly, careful not to startle her.

There was no sign of waking.

"Sakura," he said a little louder.

Had she passed out? His eyes checked the level of alcohol in the bottle and that made it clear that indeed, she must have: It was empty. What time was it? Around eleven? He had sat in that living room for a long time staring at those pills and she had not budged from the kitchen, maybe out of consideration for him. Drinking the entire bottle. What a silly woman.

"I told you you'd get a headache," he said, but wasn't she a very skilled medical professional? She could probably heal a headache without even thinking about it.

Kakashi looked at her still form, unsure whether to shake her awake or leave her be. The position she was in looked uncomfortable, not least because one of her cheeks was resting on top of her spoon. Her pink hair was covering most of her face. When he had first become her teacher, she had worn it very long - too long for a shinobi, but he had not considered it his duty to tell her that, she had to realize herself. And indeed, she had cut her own hair during the Chunin exams, leaving her timid self behind her, never growing it back. Now, it was still a very practical ear-length befitting someone in her line of work, a red hairband where she had once worn her forehead protector.

She was not having a peaceful sleep. Maybe he should move her.

But first, he took the bowl from the table and cleaned up the kitchen, storing the leftover soup in the fridge. He was hungry, but now was not the time to eat. He did not try to be particularly quiet, hoping she would wake up and walk to her bed - but she did not.

And so he found himself looking at her again not much later. Her breath had moved some of the hair aside, making visible the diamond shaped Strength of a Hundred Seal on her forehead. Her chakra control had always been extremely good, but she had surpassed all his expectations. He only knew two people who had mastered this technique: Tsunade and Sakura. How long had it taken her to form the seal? It was formed by storing vast amounts of chakra over an extended period of time into a specific point on the body, allowing the user to perform complicated techniques without any wasted energy.

"I am going to lift you up," he told her, hoping that would be sufficient to prevent any defensive reactions from her.

Carefully, he took her by the shoulders and righted her, only to have her head fall backwards, having him scramble to catch it with his right arm. She mumbled something, but she was still out. Lowering himself, he slid his left arm underneath her knees.

Kakashi lifted her up effortlessly, adjusting his arms so that she would be comfortable as he straightened himself. She mumbled something again and turned her face against his chest, probably to protect her eyes from the light. Stepping out of the kitchen and switching off the lights with his elbow in passing, he carried her towards what had to be the bedroom.

It was almost entirely dark inside, the blinds were lowered, but thanks to his keen senses he did not need any light to orient himself. Apart from a very large wardrobe and a mirror, there only was a large bed - and her scent. The room smelled of Sakura so much he was briefly taken aback - but why should it not. It was where she lived and where she spent her nights, so of course it would smell of her.

There was only one side of the bed that looked used, so that was where he put her down, making sure her head came to rest on the pillow. It was not yet hot in Konoha, which had him feel around for a blanket to put over her so she would not wake from being too cold later, taking off her pink rabbit slippers in the process.

Not that he could see them now, but he had noticed when they had come in, making him smile in secret. They were cute, like her.

She seemed comfortable enough, he assured himself and then tiptoed out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Back on the sofa, he opened the pill dispenser and put the first into his mouth without any further ado.

Disgusting.

Quickly, he washed it down with a large quantity of water.

 

Chapter Text

Sakura was having a very pleasant dream.

In a garden full of newly budded trees and bright pink flowers, she was standing in someone's safe embrace, her face deeply buried in his shirt, her arms tight around his body. There was sunlight and warmth but it wasn't too hot yet, a light breeze was rustling the leaves around them, gently wafting over the top of her head, almost like a hand leisurely ruffling her hair. He said something to her and chuckled, his voice rumbling in his chest like distant thunder, making her think of a cat’s purring, of scratching it behind the ears to make it shut its eyes in lazy pleasure.

It was enough to just stand here and be held like this. She never wanted it to stop, this feeling of bliss and happiness.

But how silly she was. For who in Konoha was able to have dreams this pleasant without eventually being reminded of the horrors of war?

The sound of the siren burst her dream bubble like a deadly kunai. Jerking awake, she was briefly disoriented, feeling lost in time, not remembering where she was in the darkness that surrounded her. But that moment only lasted for a few seconds. The 6-second high-tone, 6-second low tone raid warning sent a bolt of adrenaline through her, followed by a wave of dread.

A barrier breach? Who could…

It took her only two more seconds to realize that she was not alone in her room. She wanted to scream, but a large hand was clasped over her mouth and nose with such force she was thrown backwards, a large weight pressing down on her.

“Where is he?” a hoarse voice rasped at her ear.

Dread was beginning to invade her entire being. She wanted to hit the intruder with all she had, but she could not gather her chakra. He had somehow managed to immobilize her hands and parts of her body. She could not see a thing either, as if she had been blindfolded. Outside, the sirens kept on blaring, danger! danger! Perimeter breach!

A nightmare, it had to be a nightmare.

Kuchi no In no Jutsu”, the intruder whispered, a jutsu that hit her tongue and rendered her mute. Let me go! She screamed in her head, hoping that focusing on anger would keep her sane. It was a nightmare, but she wasn’t asleep.

“So he’s not here,” the intruder continued speaking, now with his hand removed from her mouth, “we were misled!”

Despite her distress, Sakura felt relief. Kakashi Sensei must be safe. Feeling a sudden burst of hope, she tried once more to fight whatever was keeping her down. The result was disheartening.

“Quite the body you’ve got”, the stranger snarled, “wiggle, wiggle, I like it when you squirm.”

He was moving closer, from his mouth came a disgusting smell, like rotten fish, but his Jutsu made it even impossible to gag properly. He touched her face with rough fingertips, beginning to hum under his breath.

“Ripe and juicy,” he chuckled.

And then, his hands began touching her where no uninvited hands should ever go. Kneading her breasts through the fabric of her dress, groping between her legs, his humming intensifying as her nausea surged.

No, no, no, the words formed in her head, please, no. No.

He pulled apart the fabric of her dress, his large hands hot and sticky on her exposed skin, impatiently pushing her bra out of the way. She wished she would black out so that she did not have to witness this invasion of her body, but no such reprieve was given her. If anything, her head cleared by the second.

“You Uchiha whore”, he said, pinching her nipples hard and painfully, “do you like this? Hmmmmmm.”

His one hand travelled down her body, sneaking underneath the elastic band of her trousers, pulling them down roughly, fumbling to remove the underwear too.

“Will you get wet for me?” he panted, moving his fingers down her slit, painfully ramming a finger into her. At least, it would probably be over quite soon, Sakura thought, judging from his rapid breathing, her assailant would not be able to hold back for long.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

The door had been opened, somebody shone a flashlight in and Sakura was finally able to see something, though it did her no good. There was a frightening Demon mask covering a tightly bandaged face in her field of vision. It belonged to a massive man hovering above her, wearing some kind of fur coat.

“Having myself a bit of fun,” her assailant chuckled. “Just look at her. Should the Uchiha be the only one to taste this fine piece of meat?”

The second man stepped closer. He was slimmer but wore a fanged Oni mask and fur clothes too, and she could see the large sword at his back. The design of the grip seemed vaguely familiar, but as much as she tried to remain as calm and rational as possible and force her mind to focus on such details to remember later, she could not fool herself. She was hanging on by a thread. An abyss of panic was one rough touch away.

“We don’t have the time, we must retreat,” but despite his words, his eyes fixated on her body, took in her bare breasts, moved down to stare at her exposed womanhood.

“You can have a go too,” the first man smirked, “but I go first.”

“Alright,” the second man grunted, letting one hand disappear into his trousers to stroke himself while watching.

The first laughed and stood up to take off his trousers, exposing himself and his gigantic arousal to her. She should have closed her eyes, but not even that seemed possible anymore. She could deal with the aftermath, she told herself to keep the panic at bay a little longer. She was strong. It was just flesh, a body, a vessel - they could not really hurt her.

The man grabbed her knees and pushed her legs apart. “Hmmmmmm,” he salivated, climbing onto the bed, positioning himself to penetrate her.

It was the last sound he ever uttered.

“Shiden,” Kakashi yelled and a purple light so bright it temporarily blinded her flared up, accompanied by the crackling and chirping sound of concentrated lightning. Her almost rapist’s head flew off at the swipe of Kakashi’s hand, a gush of blood hitting her when his body was thrown against the wall so violently a crack formed from floor to ceiling. Even before it could hit to floor, Kakashi had already ripped the second man’s heart out and threw his twitching, dying body on top of the other. Spitting in their direction with an expression of utter disdain, he extinguished the sizzling lightning in his hand and turned to her.

“Sakura,” he said, his voice hoarse, “Sakura, I am sorry I'm late.”

He sat down on the edge of the bed, his blood stained hands righting her clothes, pulling up her pants, wrapping her in a blanket, gathering her close.

“I will bring you to the hospital,” he said, the suppressed anger in his voice chilling to behold.

“No,” she managed to say, “nothing happened. Nothing happened. There is no need.”

Too much had happened, but she would be fine, had to be fine, even if she could still feel those rough hands on her, inside of her, disgust beginning to shake her.

“Shhh,” he said, holding her a little tighter, stroking her hair, “I am here. I’ve got you.”

Her doctor’s brain realized she was going into shock. Her breath came in fast, rapid bursts and she was beginning to shake. A wave of dizziness washed over her and she retched helplessly. Kakashi’s fingers grasped her arm under the blanket, finding her wrist, pressing down on a pressure point, then another, almost painfully hard, but very effective.

“Are you… a medical-nin now,” she gasped, already feeling a little better. Oxygen was returning to her lungs and to her brain. She would be alright. Nothing had happened. She was only badly shaken. They were dead. They could no longer hurt her.

“I only know how to ensure soldiers can fight until the very end,” he said grimly and hugged her close again.

Silly her, she did not want to appear weak in front of him, like she had too many times as a teenager. But when he said “cry if you need to cry”, she could no longer hold it in. The sobs that started to shake her body came from a place deep within her, a vulnerable, frightened place, and they did not want to stop for a long time because crying did bring relief sometimes, but never lessened the fears that resided in there.

“The… sirens… have stopped,” she finally managed to say after no more water was willing to flow out of her eyes, snuggling a little closer to him because that was the only way she could feel safe.

He nodded. “I need to go and repo…”

“No!” she gasped in panic, grabbing his body with both arms, “please don’t go.”

He winced at the contact, though it sounded muffled, like he tried to hide it from her.

“Oh no,” Sakura whispered, “Kakashi Sensei, are you hurt?”

It was so dark in here, she still could not see a thing, but her fumbling hands did not need light to realize from the warmth and the stickiness he was bleeding profoundly from a wound on his arm.

“Oh no, oh no,” she said, starting to sob again.

“I’ll be fine,” he pressed out, trying to dislodge her hands, “don’t spend any of your chakra on me.”

Now that she was focused on it, Sakura became aware of the stench of blood in her bedroom. It was so thick, it made her gag, but the doctor in her scoffed at her weakness. She, too, was covered in her assailant’s drying blood and the bed… she shuddered.

Out. She had to get out of here.

“Come,” she told Kakashi, knowing that leaving his embrace would be hard, but trying to let her voice be firm and steady, “let’s go into the living room, I cannot stay here.”

He let go of her and stood up, complying with her wish immediately. Deeply embarrassed about the state of undress he had found her in, she hugged the blanket closer. She almost fell when she tried to stand up, her legs were shaking too much, but he caught her by the arm.

“I will bring you to a hospital,” he said alarmed.

“No. Your wound needs treatment now,” she informed him and gently removed his hand from her arm, “how long have you been bleeding like this? It’s very deep. I will have to check your arteries for damage and I hope… I hope you haven’t lost too much blood yet.”

“Fine,” he murmured and walked behind her into the living room.

Sakura hesitated ever so briefly before switching on the lights. She felt an irrational fear that being able to see things would make everything worse, but the living room looked like it always had. There was a breeze from the open window, not unpleasant, bringing with it the faint smell of blossoms.

Him though…

“Sensei!” she exclaimed, rushing to his side to pull him into a sitting position, “you are not fine!”

He looked like death warmed over, pale like a ghost, his eyes almost falling shut, likely from depletion of chakra. He was drenched in blood, even his hair was red. And his eyes… she bent over him to have a better look. They were strangely red too, almost as if… he closed them in exhaustion before she could confirm what she had foolishly thought.

“I am very, very sorry,” he murmured.

“Sorry?” she scoffed, trying to open his shirt, but her hands were shaking too much, the buttons kept slipping from her fingers, “what would you be sorry for still?”

“For leaving you alone,” he said, opening his heavy-lidded eyes.

They were dark grey as always... of course. But she was so surprised by this sweet, earnest, yet completely silly statement, she blurted out laughing. Sorry for leaving her alone! Her! Like he had nothing better to do when the village was attacked!

His words resonating in her head, she couldn’t stop laughing like a madwoman. And then she cried. And then she realized she had dropped the blanket earlier and blushed the deepest red, feeling exposed again even though her clothes were covering all her body parts. She would apologize to him later. What a silly cow she was. She should have been able to fend these men off herself. She should have fought back harder, screamed earlier, be more on her guard.

During her various outbursts, Kakashi just sat there, looking so tired and worn out she could barely stand to look at him.

“Take off your shirt,” she ordered him to feel in control of the situation again.

He did, though his movements were sluggish and his eyes were constantly trying to fall shut. Once the wound was exposed, she recognized it was a sword cut and he was lucky he still had an arm. She put her hands on top of it and began to apply healing chakra, looking for damage in his bones, arteries, muscle tissue, fixing it all. His arm would be as good as new once she was done, maybe better.

Doing the work she did well calmed her down considerably and returned a fraction of her confidence to her. With relief she saw that Kakashi was gaining back some color in his face. At least one crisis was averted.

“Rin,” he whispered.

“What?” Sakura asked, leaning closer.

“No… I'm sorry,” he said, his eyes opening just a fraction, “but you're so much like her. I’m worried.”

Was he delirious? She lifted her hand to take his temperature. Burning hot. Dammit. She tired to locate the source of the fever, but couldn’t determine what was causing it. Suddenly remembering she had wanted to check for a fever after touching his skin at the hospital, she worried even more. This man needed rest. Weeks of it. Which probably meant locking him up somewhere he could not run away. Exactly what Lady Tsunade has wanted to do. Looking at the bright red tattoo with an angry frown, she stood up. Why was that thing visible again?

Kakashi’s eyes were shut for good, his head resting on the back of the sofa, his breathing regular and deep. There was blood on her sofa too now and blood on the towels she had put there for him. Should she wake him so that he could wash? He needed to put on new clothes too.

Sakura looked for his backpack, which stood in the corner. He wouldn’t mind her going through the contents, would he? She found underwear, black trousers and a shirt in there, they looked comfy and… she drew out a well-thumbed Icha Icha book with a red cover.

Seeing this remnant of the past instantly brought tears to her eyes again. After Master Jiraiya’s death, no more Icha Icha books would be written... how sad was it that Kakashi Sensei still read the old ones? Quickly putting the book back, Sakura fled into the bathroom. The face looking back at her from the mirror was hers, even though her eyes were red from crying and the corners of her mouth looked like little weights were trying to pull them down.

Forcing herself to smile at her reflection, she peeled herself out of her clothes, throwing them into the wash basket, trying not to think, not to feel. She stepped into the shower and turned the heat up as much as she knew she could stand. With the water drumming down, she forced herself to look at her body, to touch her breasts, rub her nipples, her belly, and move her finger between her legs. But it was like she had gone entirely numb. She felt nothing, only disgust at herself.

Sakura furiously scrubbed her skin with a sponge until it was almost as red as the blood that had been spilled tonight.

***

When finally returned to the living room dressed in a bathrobe with her favorite pajamas underneath, Kakashi had not budged. His face looked surprisingly peaceful, given how much blood was on it. The tattoo, she immediately noticed, had almost disappeared again, only a faint afterglow remained visible. She had promised to break the seals in his head and she would - but first, she had to ask him about this tattoo-seal. If it was anything like the seal on Naruto’s body, it was keeping something in and whatever it was, she needed to know about it before she tried to let things out.

Before she could get closer to have another look at it, a soft plop-plop-plop-plop on the roof made her go on high alert. Kakashi jerked awake, but relaxed again in an instant.

“Ours,” he said and pushed himself up to go to the window.

Sakura’s heart was beating much too fast and for a short moment, the masked faces that appeared in the darkness of the night scared her beyond reason. But there were no Oni masks, only white porcelain animal masks and the swords on these people’s backs were far shorter than the ones her assailants had carried.

“Can I invite them in?” Kakashi asked her. “I need a word.”

“Y… yes,” she stammered. It was four of them, Anbu black ops, members of Konoha’s special operations branch, hand picked by the village leader, their identities a secret to anybody else. At Kakashi’s hand sign, three of the four climbed in, with one staying outside on the ledge as a guard.

“At ease,” Kakashi told them when they stood at attention.

“Sensei,” the foremost who was wearing a frog mask said, “we are at fault. Without you…nobody saw them coming. Are you…,” falling silent, he took in Kakashi’s bloodied state. He was of medium height, with brownish, short-cut hair. Maybe she knew him. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t want to know.

“I am fine,” Kakashi brushed away that man’s concern. Yeah, right, Sakura snorted silently. If I had not forced you to take care of your own wound, you wouldn’t be standing right now.

The conversation between the men had already moved on and she stepped a little closer to hear better.

“There has to be an insider,” Kakashi was just saying. “The sensing barrier cannot be breached this effortlessly. We must investigate the Barrier Team.”

“I fear so too, and I think...” the frog-masked man fell quiet abruptly, becoming aware of Sakura standing there staring at them. She shuddered at how menacing his eyes behind that mask were. Elite assassins, known to be cruel and heartless.

“I vouch for her,” Kakashi said, realizing why the Anbu operative had stopped talking after a side-glance. “She is under my protection.”

Frog-mask seemed unconvinced. Sakura shrugged and walked away, pulling a face when she was sure the Anbu man could not see it. Her hearing was good, she would be able to understand them from further away too.

“She is the Uchiha’s wife,” the frog-mask said and whatever he associated with it, it clearly was nothing good. Even after so many years, Sasuke was not particularly loved in the village. Traitor was about the most friendly word that had been used behind their backs when they walked in the streets.

“Report to Lady Tsunade that I am needed here for a little longer,” Kakashi said, obviously considering it unnecessary to comment on frog-mask’s statement. “I’ll be coming in to report in the morning.”

“Yes, sir, understood,” the frosh-masked Anbu said, looking in Sakura’s direction again.

“Ah. I killed two of them in the bedroom,” Kakashi said grimly, which had one of the silent ones bolt towards the bedroom to check. Sakura closed her eyes as the door was opened. She could not stomach to see even a glimpse of the ruins of her once favorite room.

“Remarkable. We weren’t able to apprehend a single one of them for questioning,” frosh-mask lamented, “most fled, some self-destructed, a special jutsu.”

“Collect the bodies immediately and keep them in a secret spot,” Kakashi ordered, “there might be clues and we do not want a potential clean-up team to find and eliminate them.”

The Anbu nodded, then dropped his voice, but Sakura could still hear him clearly. “Why did they come here, Sensei?”

What had they said? We were misled.

“Sasuke,” she said.

The men all turned their head in her direction.

“They were looking for Sasuke.”

Not Kakashi. Sasuke. Her husband who was always on secret missions. How had she not realized earlier?

“That’s unlikely,” the frosh-mask Anbu sneered. “Nobody would be stupid enough to think he’s here.”

He had a point there, Sakura thought grimly. Ever since his crimes against the village, Sasuke stayed as far away as he could. “To atone for his sins,” Naruto had once told her. “You can thank Kakashi Sensei he’s not been declared a missing-nin and banished forever.”

The frosh-mask made a step towards her. “Are you perchance pregnant?” he asked rudely.

W…. what? “No!” she exclaimed, feeling too flabbergasted to react more appropriately, which would be to hit him in the face and kick him out the window.

“Are you sure?” he dared ask.

“Of course I’m sure!” she yelled, stepping forward, hands balled into tight fists, “you incredibly rude…”

“Hey! Cut it out and mind your manners,” Kakashi said sharply to him, lifting his hand as a barrier between her and the Anbu operative, who had also made a step in her direction.

“Why else would they come?” the frosh-mask said sullenly under his breath.

“Who is they?” Sakura demanded to know. “And what do they want with Sasuke?”

“Take the bodies and leave,” Kakashi told the Anbu detail, sounding rather angry, which did not escape the man’s notice. He cowered and began giving hasty instructions to his men, who began carrying out the bodies rather efficiently. Sakura stepped behind Kakashi’s back and closed her eyes, until she was sure they were gone. It became very quiet.

Kakashi sighed.

“I better take a shower,” he murmured and walked to the window to close it, quietly looking into the night for a moment.

“You… you don’t need to stay for my sake,” she said, because demanding this from him was pure selfishness. He had fought to protect Konoha and he had places to be, which did not include her wrecked apartment at three o’clock in the morning. Why had he even come back here?

“But I want to,” he replied simply and walked towards the bathroom. “May I?”

She scrambled to get him another towel and handed him his change of clothes in the process.

“I will wash your clothes for you,” she said timidly, “but I don’t sew well. Your jonin shirt… I think it’s ruined.”

He snorted and when she looked up, his eyes dance with quiet laughter.

“You do not need to wash and sew for me,” he said, “you are made for much better things.”

“Oh Sensei,” she said, feeling how tears rushed into her eyes again, “I am so sorry for what happened.”

“Hey,” he said and stepped closer. “Hey.”

He lifted his hand and placed it on top of her head, bending forward a little to look into her eyes.

“You have nothing, absolutely nothing to be sorry about,” he told her. “You did nothing wrong and could not have prevented any of this. And you do not need to feel embarrassed about it either. Do you hear me?”

She felt compelled to nod. How did he know what she was thinking? Was she being predictable again?

“And you do not need to be ashamed of your tears, Sakura,” he added, lifting his other hand to brush them away gently as they were sliding down her cheeks. “You are one of the bravest, most capable women I know. Do not doubt yourself. Be proud of who you are, always. Okay?”

And then he ruffled her hair, just like he had once done when she had been a stupid girl whose biggest goal in life had been to get Sasuke to notice her.

She was too stunned to reply and stood in front of the closed bathroom door for the longest time, listening to the sounds of the shower running, then stopping, the sound of his naked feet on the tiles, of him brushing his teeth. She was still standing there when he came out wearing the black clothes she had taken from his backpack, his hair damp and much flatter than usual, but returned to its silver state, his eyes crinkling when he beheld her.

“You have to get some sleep,” he told her. “But not standing up.”

“You too,” she hurriedly said, because she knew what he would say next. “You can keep lying about being fine, but I know better.”

“Ah, well,” he smiled and scratched the back of his head, “you did patch me up very expertly. And not for the first time.”

“And you saved my life again. Not for the first time.”

“It’s what we do,” he smiled and walked over to the sofa. “So…”

“You are going to offer me the sofa, but I will refuse,” she said, switching off the main light, only leaving the one in the corridor on, “and I will not change my mind. You will also not take it, which would just result in both you and me not being on the sofa, which is… stupid. So… we’re both going to use the sofa.”

He lifted his eyebrows at her. “I don’t think that’s…”

“It’s an excellent idea,” she said, “sit down.”

Before she could lose her sudden courage, she went over and pulled at his hand to seat him in the corner, quickly putting a pillow behind his head. Grabbing the discarded blanket from earlier and wrapping herself in it, she stretched herself out and put her head on his lap before he could protest.

He didn’t. He just stiffened a little, then let out a long deep breath.

“I can live with this arrangement,” he said quietly and she felt him relax into the comfort of the sofa.

And because his hand was just lying there next to her face, she grabbed it into both of hers and pulled it close, very close, to rest her cheek against.

Selfish. But he was here, warm and comforting, a little longer, until the morning. Why not hold him as long as she could?

“You know what,” he murmured almost inaudibly when she was already half asleep and unsure whether she was in fact dreaming, “I think I remember something. It was me who told them Sasuke is here.”

 

Chapter Text

Kakashi was having a very pleasant dream.

And because this was entirely new to him, he kept wondering what was going on, expecting either a surprise attack from behind the bushes or suspecting that he must have fallen prey to a very clever genjutsu. This managed to almost spoil the pleasantness, but while a part of him stayed alert and distrustful, the much bigger part gave in completely.

He was human after all, wasn’t he? And from time to time, humans needed to indulge.

His back was resting against a tree and he was stroking Sakura’s pink hair, but only very lightly so as to not wake her. She was cuddled up against his chest and when she exhaled, the burst of air coming from her mouth moved her fringe up a little, affording him glimpses of her beautiful face. Pakkun, an askance crown of flowers on his pudgy head, was slumbering happily in her arms, snoring like only dogs could snore, his front paws twitching erratically from time to time.

How Kakashi longed to kiss her as he watched the fringe move and observed the slight movements of her lips every time she drew a new breath.

It was quite the dilemma, because as much as he wanted to press his lips against hers, he also did not want to wake her. She had worked very hard with hardly any rest in the last few days, she deserved to sleep for many more hours.

The longing grew stronger though. He was normally relaxed and balanced, seldomly roused to extreme actions. But that also meant that once his emotions were stirred, he did not know how to temper himself.

He knew her lips were soft but demanding, capable of lighting a fire in him that took awhile to extinguish. She was always shy when they met again after some time but only until he managed to enrage her. He was glad that was easy, because he liked her feisty, slightly violent side by far the most. But even more than to touch his lips against hers, he liked to touch them against the velvet skin of her glorious body, liked to inhale that special scent of hers that made him think of a forest of pine trees after a sudden downpour in the midst of summer as he let his lips and tongue travel. If he had to choose, his favorite part was probably that cute little belly button where he…

“Are we having a pleasant dream?” a deep voice asked.

What the… “Pakkun?” Kakashi groaned, opening his eyes wide and lifting his head.

It was only just getting light outside, a gloomy sort of grayness indicating the day was not quite ready to start yet. He realized he was in Sakura’s apartment, on Sakura’s sofa, with Sakura’s head on his thigh. Well, Sakura and Sasuke’s apartment and Sakura and Sasuke’s sofa to be precise - and he had just had the kind of dream no man should have about a wife not his own.

Pakkun sat on the fauteuil near the bookshelf and yawned extensively, showing his formidable teeth.

“Pakkun,” Kakashi whispered, “what are you doing here?”

“Trying to find out why you are holding that woman like she’s a treasure,” the dog answered and looked at Sakura’s head with suspicion.

“I am not…,” Kakashi pulled away his hand that was resting on Sakura’s hair. After a brief moment of reflection, he put it back. He was talking to a dog. There was absolutely no need to justify any of his actions to a dog.

“He he,” Pakkun chuckled, “you are easier to handle early in the morning, I am making a mental note.”

“State your business,” Kakashi said sharply, thinking that he knew how to summon his ninken, but had no clue how to make them disappear again.

“Huh,” Pakkun remarked loudly, peering at his face, “do you need coffee?”

“Shhh,” Kakashi hissed. “Quiet.”

“You could really be a little nicer to me,” Pakkun began to complain, “you know how hard I had to work to find you? I was running all over Konoha, so exhausting! At first, I went to the Hokage Tower, thinking I would see you there, but only Lady Tsunade was in and she was in a foul mood! She even shouted at me even though I only asked where you where. And she forbid me to see Tonton!”

“Alright, alright,” Kakashi moaned, “Just be quiet!”

Thinking about what had almost happened the night before made his blood boil instantly. Luckily, this apartment had become unlivable for a while thanks to him using Chidori in a closed room. He would have to organize the cleaning crew today. And then find another place for Sakura to stay. A safer place near him so that he could make sure to protect her.

Chidori… Kakashi looked at his hand with a frown. No. He had developed a different technique and it was called Shiden. He had developed it because Chidori was almost unusable without a Sharingan and…

“Damn,” he said under his breath.

“And now you’re even swearing at me, oh woe, oh woe,” Pakkun lamented.

“Pakkun,” Kakashi said, “did I send you on an errand?”

“Yes of course you did!” Pakkun replied wide-eyed. “Why else would I be here, do you think I work for fun?”

Kakashi looked at Sakura’s head on his leg. Obviously, she was completely exhausted or else, she would already have woken up with all the ruckus the dog was causing. Very gently, he lifted her head and moved away to the side to stand up, slipping a pillow underneath her head in the process.

“Come to the kitchen with me,” he told Pakkun.

“I would prefer to leave soon, do you know how thick the blood smell is in here? It’s making me rather… edgy.”

“A dog with your intelligence should be able to control his baser instincts, shouldn't he?” Kakashi said and walked to the kitchen. He felt surprisingly good, considering what had happened the night before and there was no pain in his body, not something he could often boast.

For all his complaining, Pakkun followed him very obediently and climbed on the chair as soon as Kakashi had closed the door behind them. It still smelled of sake and udon soup in here and with a pang of regret after checking the softly ticking clock, Kakashi realized that only very few hours had passed since he had set foot in this apartment for the first time.

His regret came from the fact that it was unlikely he would be able to stay for many more. Great, he scolded himself as he tried to decide whether to go through the trouble of making coffee or not, did you think you could move in with her for good?

Pakkun was looking in his direction expectantly with his tongue hanging out.

“Do you want some pork belly?” Kakashi asked to buy himself some more time. It was damn early in the morning, his head wasn’t functioning properly. He never got up before 9am if he didn’t have to and it was only just passed 7am at the moment. If Tsunade was already at the Hokage Tower, this could only mean she had stayed up the whole night dealing with this mess they were in.

He would definitely delay going to see her for a few more hours. Because he suspected that a very large part of this mess had to do with him.

Kakashi opened the fridge and took out the pan with the rest of the udon soup, fishing out the pieces of pork belly left in it with a fork.

“Here,” he said, holding it in front of Pakkun’s snout, “for your troubles.”

Pakkun devoured everything within seconds, but a look of suspicion came over his pug face as he was swallowing down the last piece.

“Why are you so nice to me?”

“Pakkun,” Kakashi sighed and leaned back on the stove, “I have a problem.”

“The woman who uses my shampoo?” Pakkun asked eagerly.

Kakashi snorted. Yeah, right. It was exactly what he needed, a judgmental dog this early in the morning.

“I don’t remember.”

“Huh?” Pakkun asked, “what did you do to her?”

“Will you shut up!” Kakashi exclaimed. “It has nothing to do with her,” well… that was only partially true, but it was not what his biggest worry was right now. “I do not remember. I don’t remember anything I did after… Not sure when, but I don’t remember losing my sharingan.”

Pakkun made a worried face.

“Which is not entirely true, I do remember things,” Kakashi looked at his hand again, “and my body remembers things. I developed a new technique, didn’t I? It’s very effective and powerful.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Pakkun said, “several techniques. You were completely obsessed with it after losing the sharingan. You were unbearable for a long time but luckily, stayed on the training grounds for most of the time. You’re much nicer today so I am thinking...”

“What errand did I send you on?” Kakashi interrupted the dog’s musing.

“To find Sasuke, of course,” the pug replied immediately.

Kakashi stiffened. “Shit,” he said.

“Yes, it was a very hard task,” Pakkun nodded gravely.

So he had not dreamt it, Kakashi realized. He had remembered something while falling asleep and that was being held prisoner by people wearing Oni masks, just like the long extinct Prajñā Group from the Land of Woods had used to wear. But why had he told them that Sasuke had returned to Konoha when that was clearly a lie?

Well, maybe it was the whole point that he had lied, wasn’t it.

Kakashi sighed. He had to go see Tsunade. She should be able to fill in some of the blanks. At least he now had an inkling of what they were.

“... but now that I found him, I can go on holidays for a while, right?” Pakkun said.

“What?” Kakashi asked sharply.

“I found him. Obviously. That’s why I was looking for you. That’s why I’m here,” Pakkun said, sounding offended.

“Where?”

“He’s headed to Konoha as we speak.”

“Did I tell you why you had to find him?” Kakashi asked.

“No!” Pakkun exclaimed, “of course not! You never do. You just bark commands at me in a very unfriendly manner.”

Oh well. Kakashi put his hands into his pockets and looked up at the ceiling. He would have preferred to be better prepared for this, but it wasn’t like he had never had to deal with uncertainty in his life.

“Do you drink coffee?” he asked the dog and began rummaging through the cupboards for the necessary utensils.

“I prefer tea,” Pakkun said, “but since I am sure this is the first and last time you’re this nice to me, I’ll take a cup of the other stuff.”

“How are the others?” Kakashi thought it polite to ask. “How’s Bull doing?”

The largest of his ninken had always been his problem child. Never able to develop the ability to speak like the others, he was by far the most clingy of the pack and he had always looked at him with his large, sad eyes in the most heart wrenching way when he had to leave him.

“Frankly,” Pakkun replied, “he’s been eating too much. He’s very unfit. You should summon him more often. Or just take him on a walk with you, I think he’d like that - he’s so much like a normal dog. Maybe next time you go on a walk with that woman who uses my shampoo.”

Which would be never, Kakashi thought sullenly. Enough was enough. He could deal with untoward dreams, but it should be a warning.

“It’s that other woman,” Pakkung continued speaking, “Anko Mitarashi who has been feeding him too much.”

Huh.

“Is she… is she watching the pack when I’m not around?” Kakashi asked rather surprised and reminded of his earlier conversation with Sakura.

“No!” Pakkun exclaimed, “just how muddle-headed are you? But Bull took a liking to her many years ago and likes to hang out at her place because there is so much food!”

Kakashi sighed again. It really looked like he had some catching up to do. But first, he needed coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

***

Sakura expected to open her eyes and find Kakashi gone, that’s why she did not open her eyes for a very long time even though it seemed she heard somebody else in the room. When she could no longer pretend that this behavior would change anything about the situation, she opened her eyes after all.

There he sat. In an armchair to the left, one leg up, his chin resting on his knee, reading.

Not an Icha Icha book. But one she had written two years ago about the mental health needs of traumatized children.

She wanted to squeal from excitement and mortification at the same time, spring up and rip the book out of his hands and hide it in a secret drawer, but she lay very still instead and watched him through slitted eyes.

He wasn’t gone. He was very much here, in his black outfit that was something between a track suit and a pijama, hair restored to its normal messy state. He was here - when she knew for certain he should go and report to Lady Tsunade about what had happened the night before.

What had happened the night before? Foreign ninja had invaded Konoha even though that should not be possible. Two had died in her bedroom. They had been looking for Sasuke. Why? And was that their sole purpose?

But, if Kakashi was still here, the immediate crisis was over, she concluded, though she was quite certain this only applied to the short-term.

He seemed thoroughly engrossed in what he was reading, his eyes glued to the pages with utmost concentration - but he had always had the ability to read in all kinds of situations. Like when he was fighting off stupid little genin squirts who were thinking they stood a chance against a jonin like him.

Did he think what she had written was good? Sakura had always been unsure about that book or rather, knew a thousand things that she could have done better. It had been Ino who had forced her to finally publish it. To ensure she would be promoted and as a preparation for their grand idea… to open a mental health clinic just for children. Ah… the idea was so good, but somehow, they had gotten stuck, Sakura thought ruefully. She blamed the amount of work that had flooded her life like a tsunami. And Ino… Ino was blissfully happy in love with Sai, oblivious to the rest of the world. Sometimes, Sakura selfishly hoped that phase would end soon, but she felt guilty about it when she did. Wasn’t it ironic? She had married Sasuke, everybody’s crush back at the academy, the guy who had almost been able to end her and Ino’s friendship. But she wasn’t happy at all - whereas Ino was the happiest anybody could be.

“How are you feeling?” Kakashi asked and she almost squealed from surprise. His dark eyes were resting on her, not the book anymore, his gaze making her blush. Could that stop already? He closed to book and bent forward.

“I made coffee, do you want some?”

“Y… yes,” she stammered, scrambling into a sitting position. Could that stop too?

Kakashi got up smoothly and went to the kitchen, returning with a mug full of steaming coffee quickly.

“Thank you,” she said when he presented it to her.

“It’s your coffee I used,” he smiled, “no need to thank me for it.”

She stared at his face over the rim of the cup, feeling… like she had to address why she was blushing and stuttering in his presence because it was only getting worse. Soon, she would be entirely tongue-tied and red like a tomato.

“Sakura,” he sighed.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, “I fully understand that you need to leave now, you stayed as long as you possibly could. Tsunade is certainly most anxious to see you and…”

“Undoubtedly,” he interrupted her with a small frown. “She can wait a little longer.”

Sakura gasped, but of course. Kakashi made people wait, even the Hokage. Because he could. Because he was so important, people had no other choice but wait for him.

“Sakura,” he began again, “we have to talk.”

She nodded, feeling how her heart picked up speed. She would be entirely truthful, she told herself, there was no use in lying to someone as perceptive as him. She was a pragmatic person, most of the time, not prone to silly illusions… most of the time. Hm. Was that true? She had held out for Sasuke for so many years, even after he had tried to kill her. Maybe she was the queen of silly illusions, she thought with a sinking feeling. What good would it do to tell her former Sensei she was developing a massive crush on him?

Kakashi. She tried it out in her head. Kakashi. It should be okay if she just swallowed the Sensei before it came over her lips.

“Last night,” he began, but somehow, he seemed to lose track of what he had wanted to say, his frown deepening.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said quickly, thinking he must be embarrassed for her about what had almost happened.

“But I have to worry,” he said and sat down on the floor in front of her, “it is my job.”

She nodded again, not sure what else to do. Looking down on his upturned face was not something she was used to do and it managed to confuse her even more.

“Okay,” he began again, “let me be frank.”

Good. Frank was good, she thought.

“You are in danger,” he said. Then he took a deep breath. “Because of me. Apologizing to you will not change anything about this, so let’s just fix it. First, you will have to move after S…”

“What?” she burst out.

“We will make sure you’re in a safe location where we can guard you well.”

“But…”

“You will not be given a choice,” Kakashi said, “this is a matter that concerns the security of Konoha.”

Okay, now she was getting angry.

“Not given a choice? Who the heck do you think you are?” she yelled at him. “You cannot just come sweeping in and uproot my entire…”

“Sakura,” he interrupted, lifting his hand, “I am not done speaking yet.”

“I don’t care!” she shouted. “You know what I hate the most? Guys who do not talk and just assume they can do whatever they want and get away with it every-single-time! You at least owe me an…”

“Explanation? Yes, I was going to give it to you. At least as far as I can.”

Sakura wasn’t sure what was more irritating, his signature calmness or the fact that her outburst was completely irrational and stupid on top.

“I’m listening,” she said gruffly.

“Good,” he said and… smiled. Why the heck did he have to smile at her like this, as if he thought her emotional imbalance was cute?

“We have been trying to locate this particular cell of enemies for more than three years,” he began without further ado, “after Sasuke told us about them.”

She was certainly listening now.

“He could not tell you anything about his missions, because they are top secret S-rank,” Kakashi explained, maybe interpreting her expression as quiet hurt about her husband’s absence and secrecy. Yes, she was hurt, but that was of no consequence right now.

“And you can?” she snapped.

“I am breaking protocol,” Kakashi replied smoothly.

“What are they going to…”

“Don’t worry,” he smiled, “I will be able to deal with the consequences. My position comes with certain benefits.”

What position is that? She wanted to ask, but bit her tongue. If he was revealing classified information to her, he could be severely punished, that much she knew.

“What do they want?” she asked instead, though she already suspected what the answer would be.

“The Uchiha’s kekkei genkai, as you must have guessed,” the answer came.

Indeed, it was no surprise. In the history of their lands, there had been so many atrocities committed because of these bloodline traits. People with special genetic abilities had always been used and abused in times of war and suppressed and feared when there was no need to have fighting machines anymore. To her, the bloodline limits were a curse. Some clans went to extreme length to preserve the secrets of their special abilities, some others…

It suddenly dawned on her why the Anbu man had asked why she was pregnant.

“What would they have done to me if they had found me with child?” she asked bluntly.

Kakashi pressed his lips together.

“Tell me, I can take it.”

“They would have ripped the child out of you,” he said and to his credit, it seemed to pain him to say these words, “and would have taken the embryo to their own labs. Any Uchiha blood they can get is of immense value.”

Nausea swept over her and she had to take a couple of deep breath to calm herself down. Sasuke... he was still out there, alone, with these kind of people after him?

“It was them who took me prisoner,” Kakashi continued softly, “I remember that much.”

“What did they do to you?” she exclaimed though she already kinda knew. She had read his file, hadn’t she.

“Ah. Well,” he said and smiled again, though it did not manage to fool her in the least, “what you usually do when you get your hands on an elite enemy shinobi, I assume.”

“I wish you would all stop with this,” Sakura murmured disgusted, “can’t we just live in peace?”

He shrugged. Of course he would think this a matter of shrugging, the idiot. How many people she knew would willingly let themselves be captured and tortured just to manipulate a situation for a potential benefit?

“And what have we gained from this stunt of yours?” she challenged him. “You lied to them, didn’t you, to draw them out? Did they put the seals in your mind?”

Kakashi shrugged again, though now she clearly saw the discomfort. “I am not sure. It’s not unlikely.”

Great!

“I won’t touch them!” she hissed, “do you think I’m insane? Who knows what will happen once they’re removed!”

“I understand,” Kakashi nodded, “I’m going to see Tsunade about it. There has to be another way.”

“What about the pills?” Sakura demanded to know before her mind could ponder what those ‘other ways’ might be, “don’t tell me Kohona is doing drug experiments on people. Correction: on you, because most other people would not be stupid enough to agree to something like this.”

“Aren’t you the doctor here?” he asked back.

Was he suggesting she would know about such an unethical thing!? The likes of Orochimaru and Kabuto were the ones doing human experiments, she was certain Tsunade would never agree to something like it!

“Are you not telling me or do you not remember?” she asked sharply.

She looked into his eyes to see the truth, but there was nothing there to read. What did she expect? Kakashi knew how to keep secrets, most expertly his own. Maybe she was being unfair, but only a very naive kind of person would believe he did not know about those pills and everything else, including that seal-tattoo.

“What happened last night?” she asked when he kept silent. “You took those pills and then you went out and slaughtered an entire army of enemy shinobis by yourself with no regard for your own life? Are you suicidal?”

She might have spoken too bluntly, because what she had said did not please him. His eyes narrowed and his body stiffened.

“Careful,” he said and though it was spoken quietly, there was an implied threat that made her gut contract for a second.

And then he got up.

“This conversation is over,” he said, now looking down on her with a hardened expression she hated to see. “You know what you need to know.”

She sprang to her feet too.

“No!” she said forcefully and grabbed the sleeve of his shirt. “And you do not get to decide such things for me, Kakashi. There are many things I need to know that you have no intention of sharing, but I am no pushover. Tell me, will they attack again? Will they seek me out again? Did you tell them that I was pregnant?”

His whole demeanor changed. Guilty. He looked guilty and confused, much more like a child scolded by his mother for stealing cookies than an elite shinobi.

“It’s okay,” she whispered, her heart suddenly contracting in sympathy, “it’s okay if you did.”

“I… I don’t remember,” he replied, looking rather anguished, “I might have. I do not think I would ever wantonly jeopardize your life but…”

She stepped up to him and put her hands around his waist, before she could even realize what she was doing.

“Stop worrying about it,” she said, burying her head against his chest, “it’s okay. I trust you.”

His heartbeat was at her ear and she realized it picked up speed just as she asked herself with a feeling of sudden panic what the heck am I doing, have I gone insane?

“Sakura,” he said hoarsely, “this is not a good idea.”

But instead of pushing her away, he put his own arms around her and pressed her to his chest. She sighed contently and snuggled even closer. What magic was there in his embrace to make her feel so welcome, so safe? No, this was a very good idea.

Kakashi pressed her to his chest for about seven more seconds. Then, he pushed her back with gentle force so that she hit the sofa with the back of her knees and sat down involuntarily, just as a key was turned in the lock of the apartment door.

“I am sorry, Sakura,” Kakashi said softly and turned around to face her husband who was walking in with a deep frown on his dark, handsome face.

Chapter Text

“Kakashi,” Sasuke said slowly, his eyes narrowed to slits. “What are you doing here?”

“I gather you haven’t been to see the Hokage yet, Sasuke,” Kakashi replied smoothly. “That’s fine. Wait here until someone comes to fetch you. Don’t bother with unpacking.”

It was lightly spoken, in that usual laid-back tone of his, but to Sakura, it seemed like the temperature had suddenly dropped below zero. Two tigers circling each other with bared fangs would have made her less nervous.

Sasuke scowl deepened as he looked in her direction.

Of course, she blushed. They hadn’t even done anything, just hugged like friends, but it was clear to Sakura that Sasuke knew instinctively that silly women like her were unable to keep their hands off Konoha’s famous copy-ninja if they were given the chance. Sakura furtively glanced at Kakashi’s black-clad back and the spiky silver hair and felt like finding a deep hole to hide. I’m sorry, Sakura, Kakashi had said. Sorry about what? About having to reject her? About having to push her away? About how all his good teaching had gone to waste?

Yes, she was sorry too. About being stupid, about not hearing, not wanting to hear the footsteps on the stairs like he had, about thinking even for a moment that hugging Hatake Kakashi was something she was entitled to do.

“Hi, Sakura,” Sasuke said and briefly shook the hair away from the left side of his face to look at her with both eyes. “I’m back.”

He was, wasn’t he. Just like that, out of the blue, after nine months and some weeks and some days, she had stopped counting. She had imagined their reunion for so long. And now that it was here… everything was different.

“Hi, Sasuke,” she replied, her mouth suddenly dry. He was wearing a black travel cloak with purple lining, and a grey, long-sleeved, collared shirt. With a pang, she noticed the Konoha forehead protector that hung from his left hip. When had he gotten that back? It was good that he felt it was okay to show his affiliation again like this. Very good. Maybe he would stay this time.

Sasuke looked paler than she remembered, thinner and… older, somehow. Well, she hadn’t seen him in over nine months, so he was older - but he looked at least four years beyond his age. Still scowling, he removed the dark grey fingerless glove on his remaining right hand with his teeth and shrugged out of the cloak.

“What happened here?“ Sasuke asked Kakashi, turning his eyes towards the bedroom. Trust his keen Uchiha senses to pick up the blood that had been spilled.

“Konoha was attacked last night,” Kakashi said, “two enemies came here looking for you.”

What?”

Sasuke walked to the bedroom swiftly and opened the door. Sakura braced herself, but she did not panic or anything like it. She even managed to walk up behind him and look in. The first thing she noticed was her once pink slippers on the floor, now rusty red. Maybe she wasn’t quite ready yet after all, she thought as she closed her eyes quickly.

“You used Shiden inside my apartment?” Sasuke exclaimed, taking everything in, including the broken wall. “Are you crazy?”

Sasuke had never had any respect to spare for anyone, Sakura knew this. She also knew that Kakashi had never cared about it, even when he still was their teacher. And yet, Sasuke’s rudeness stirred anger in her.

“It wasn’t like there was a lot of time for more subtle methods,” she said sharply.

Shiden. That was the purple techniques name. It was something new, she had not seen it before. Another lightning technique, just like Chidori, but even more deadly and precise. He is Konoha’s most proficient killer, she remembered Sasuke telling her once, which had resulted in a heated argument between them. She had protested the use of the word killer for somebody as righteous as Kakashi, whereas Sasuke had called her a stupid cow and had insisted that people who killed other people in cold blood, however just the cause, where killers, nothing better, nothing worse.

Kakashi, who had sauntered over to stand behind her, cleared his throat.

“Hmmm, well, yes. Sakura will explain the details to you. But my knee-jerk reaction had an auspicious outcome: We were able to retrieve their bodies intact, they were taken back to…”

Plop-plop-plopplop-plop-plop on the roof and the yet darkest look on Sasuke’s face as he lifted his head.

“Let me speak to them,” Kakashi said with a small sigh, turning to the window.

It was another Anbu detail, Sakura counted ten individuals, one of them seemed to be a woman. Ten black ops members gathering in front of their window, their sinister masked faces turned towards them. She felt extremely tired all of a sudden.

“Can I…” Kakashi started.

“Just get it over with,” she snapped at him, feeling sorry for her testy tone right away, but even if it wasn't his fault, this was so tedious. She really wanted to get on with her life already. She’d even go back to the hospital for a twenty hour shift right now, if it meant returning to the normalcy of her overworked, but unworried state.

Kakashi opened the window and frog-mask jumped in. Of course, it had to be him again. She scowled at the man and he let his eyes sweep over her with what seemed like much disdain, then turning his attention to Sasuke with even bigger displeasure.

“The Uchiha is to be taken in for questioning immediately. He has been judged a very high flight risk and…”

“Really?” Kakashi smiled. “He just came back from a long mission and hasn’t seen his wife in forever. I’d consider that a low flight risk.”

Frog-mask wanted to say something, but Kakashi lifted his hand authoritatively. “Give him some time. He will come in on his own volition once he’s ready, won’t you, Sasuke?”

“Yes,” Sasuke ground out between clenched teeth.

“Sensei,” the Anbu operative said, “with all due respect, my orders…”

“I take full responsibility,” Kakashi said sharply. “Besides, have you not come to fetch me too? Let me tell you a secret. Of the two of us, I’m the much higher flight risk.”

“Y... Yes, sir,” frog mask stammered, “Lady Tsunade said, allow me to quote: Get his ass here IMMEDIATELY or I’ll rip him to pieces - and I will rip you to pieces too if you fail.”

Kakashi nodded. “See? So, here’s what we are going to do. I will not put up a fight and follow you without any further delay if you let Sasuke breathe for a bit. Deal?”

Frog-mask seemed to ponder the various risks he was facing, then nodded. “I will leave four people here to…”

“Give them some privacy,” Kakashi said in a conspiratorial whisper, bending forward a little. “Or I might consider taking a detour to get some food at the other end of town. The type that is slow cooked. I know just the place...”

That convinced frog-mask to agree to this “deal” - which was rather proficient arm-twisting, Sakura thought with an inward smile - and before she could decide what to say to Kakashi - thanks for everything? Sorry that I hugged you? See you? - he had collected his boots, his backpack, his flak jacket and had disappeared in a cloud of smoke, closely followed by the Anbu operatives.

“Hatake Kakashi,” Sasuke mused, staring at the spot the jonin had last been seen. “How long ago have you two reconnected?”

“Two days ago,” Sakura replied, sounding more snippy than planned. “At the Hokage’s order.”

Two days ago. That was amazingly short. Would she have to go back to the hospital today now that her special “patient” had been called away? She was sure they needed her there desperately.

“Really?” Sasuke asked, frowning at her. “I wonder what that is about. But now I’m back.”

Seriously? No: How are you? Have you missed me? No: Wow, you look pretty? But why was she even expecting it.

The Uchihas. Greatly devoted to love and friendship when they weren’t on one of their hate-crusades, yet unable to show affection. Knowing this didn’t change the fact that she had never stopped craving for it. Once, when she had been very drunk and crying her eyes out in lonely misery, she had suggested to Ino that the only reason she was sticking with Sasuke was her undying hope that if she just waited long enough, he would turn into a loving person eventually. Ino had consoled her, saying that not everybody was the same and every marriage had its benefits and downsides. The benefit: Sasuke. The downside: only the occasional forehead poke to express a human connection.

“How are you?” she tried to make conversation. He looked very tired, she noticed. Would he ever choose to tell her where he had been and what had happened to him?

Sasuke shrugged. “I’m alright.”

Was he really not going to ask what had happened? No, he just looked more closely at the traces of Kakashi’s jutsu. He was probably comparing Kakashi’s technique to his own. It had always been like this, he was competitive to the extreme, even if there was no point in it at all. He would never stop striving to be better than everybody.

“He said they’ll put us somewhere else,” Sakura said. “Maybe we should start packing.”

“What?” Sasuke said and turned to her, looking displeased. “Are you serious? But did he say they would send the cleaners?”

“Yes,” Sakura said. “He did.”

“They could fix this within a day,” Sasuke said moodily. “But I guess it’s more convenient to put us somewhere they can watch me better. So what happened?”

“A perimeter breach.”

Why did he think Konoha wanted to watch him? She had believed that ten years after the war and so many secret missions, his name would finally be cleared.

“Why are these people after you?” she asked, “the Mangekyō Sharingan? The Rinnegan? Will this never stop?”

Sasuke stopped dead in his tracks. “Did Hatake tell you something?”

“What if he did?” she asked back. Kakashi had… and then again had not said anything she could not have guessed herself.

“He wouldn’t be that stupid,” Sasuke said more to himself, but she saw that the thought troubled him. As much as anything ever troubled an Uchiha. Oh great, her husband and her former Sensei had some kind of secret going on.

“Is there something the matter with his Sharingan?” Sakura asked, thinking about that trick of the eye last night, eyes that were red when they should not be. It was a crazy thought, but things were kinda were crazy right now.

Sasuke snorted. “You bet. He has lost it, as you are well aware. I guess he’s proven his worth without it, but he’s really only half the shi…”

“How dare you,” she said sharply.

Sasuke shut his mouth and pressed his lips together.

“If not for him, I would have been…,” her time to press her lips together. Her voice shook and she wanted to cry. She sounded whiny and immature, not like a woman who could take care of herself. Not like someone who deserved the words of praise Kakashi had given her. But what could she do? She was so vulnerable in front of Sasuke. Always wanting something he wasn’t ready to give. Always wanting more when he did give her something.

It seemed to dawn on him at least that maybe, his little jealousy tantrum was rather misplaced. Sasuke looked down at his feet.

“He… did this to protect you?” he asked with effort.

“Yes, Sasuke,” Sakura said, “I was about to be raped by two masked men, who had come to check whether I was pregnant so that they could their hands on Uchiha blood. They would likely have killed me afterwards.”

Sasuke’s handsome face took on an expression of dismay upon being presented with the truth in such a blunt manner.

“Are you…,” he made a helpless gesture in her direction.

“I’m perfectly fine,” she said with a short, bitter sounding laugh. “Don’t worry, they did not get what they wanted.”

“I…,” Sasuke made a step in her direction.

“It’s fine, Sasuke,” Sakura sighed, suddenly too tired to be angry or hurt. “I am glad you are back. It’s been… very lonely without you.”

“I am sorry,” he said, “I am very sorry.”

He closed the gap between them in several short steps and put his remaining arm around her tightly.

It was what it was, this marriage. She had come to live with it, even if she still had issues accepting it. In moments like these, when Sasuke was with her, hugging her stiffly and clumsily, like it was the one thing, the only thing he was bad at and just did not take the time to practice more, she wanted to cry.

“It’s alright,” she sighed again, swallowing down her tears and hugged him in turn, rubbing her hands down his stiff back, “really, don’t worry about it. You’re here now, everything will be fine.”

He didn’t respond to that but buried his face in her hair and sighed deeply. Whatever that meant. Stupid men with their stupid secrets, one worse than the other.

“I don’t like it,” Sasuke murmured.

“What?” she asked against his chest.

“Hatake Kakashi near you.”

“Sasuke,” she said and lifted her head, “you really do not need to…”

“Stay away from him,” he said with vehemence and pressed her head back against his chest with his hand.

“Okay,” she said, feeling confused, “yes... if I can.”

She was lying, without even a sliver of remorse. No, she would not stay away from Kakashi. He had given her word to help him and she would, even if it meant putting herself in danger. Had he not done the same for her, again and again?

“Sakura…,” Sasuke said.

“Yes, Sasuke?”

“Let’s make a baby.”

What?! She pushed against him to free herself and looked up at his earnest face with major confusion.

“No!” she exclaimed, “Sasuke, I don’t want a baby yet. I am much too busy at the hospital and me and Ino…”

“Forget about those stupid plans,” he said, sounding angry. “A child will make you very happy. We’ve been married for four years already, don’t you think people are wondering?”

“You’re not serious!” Sakura replied, “everybody knows you’re never around, no, they’re not wondering.”

“I plan to be around more often,” he said stubbornly.

A child? Sakura tried to imagine herself as a mother, but that just did not add up in her head. One day, maybe. But in the current situation… She looked at him and swallowed. Even when his Sharingan was not activated, there was something in Sasuke’s eyes that was so hypnotizing she could not look away. And now, she saw something in them that frightened her as much as it made her heart race: lust.

Her body reacted instantly. She became wet and her breathing picked up pace. After all, she was defenseless when it came to this Uchiha’s looks and what she longed for the most: his affection. To be touched by him… she had yearned for it for so long and when they had finally slept together… well, it was like first times were according to the books, short and painful. But he seemed pleased afterwards and that was all that mattered to her.

“Can we…,” he asked in a low voice.

“In… here?” she asked back, her voice betraying her nervousness. Maybe if she shut her eyes very, very tightly and imagined she was… somewhere else? But the smell… no… she suddenly felt nauseous again.

“Sofa,” he said.

“But the Anbu…”

“There are blinds,” he said, sounding more urgent. “And Kakashi told them to leave us be. Believe me, they obey his orders very well.”

“O… okay,” she said and walked into the living room on shaking legs, turning to the window to lower the roller blinds. They hadn’t used them in forever and the screeching sound they omitted made her shudder. Sasuke stood behind her and as soon as she was done, he grabbed her hand and pulled her to the sofa.

“Help me,” he said, clumsily pulling at her clothes. Maybe he regretted the refusal to get a prosthetic arm like Naruto in moments such as these? He took a step back to watch her take her clothes off. She was only wearing a bathrobe and her pajamas, but she had also put on underwear, for whatever strange reason, she usually never wore underwear at night. She shed everything fairly quickly and then stood in front of him naked. Sakura suppressed a shiver, even though it wasn’t cold at all, wondering whether she was ready for this after what had happened the night before, but… she had to be, no? Her husband was back.

His look turned very dark as he fixated at a spot on her belly. She looked down and saw a bruise.

“It doesn’t hurt,” she quickly assured him, though that wasn’t entirely true. Her body felt sore this morning, she realized it now, likely from the effects of that jutsu that had been used to immobilize her.

Sasuke began to fumble around with the waistband of his trousers and she quickly stepped up to him to help untie them. Should she… touch him? She remembered he had liked that before, at least that’s what she had thought. Sakura shut her eyes and bravely closed her hand around what was causing a rapidly growing bulge in there.

He stiffened at the touch and she almost let go, but she felt how his thing twitched in her hand and became even harder. Slowly, she moved her fist up and down. She had always wondered whether he would like her to take it in her mouth and suck it, but she had not dared to ask. She had certainly read about it a lot and had learnt that men like that kind of thing in general, but she wasn’t sure how much Sasuke was like other men.

“Hmmhmhm,” Sasuke pressed out, “don’t do that or it will be over in no time.”

“S… sorry,” she said and let go, taking a step back.

“Turn around,” he said. “Kneel on the sofa.”

She complied, glad he seemed to know what he wanted, she guessed it had to be about the bruise and him not wanting to hurt her, or not wanting to see it. Sasuke stepped behind her and she braced herself, but tried not to tense up too much because it would only hurt more. She felt his hand between her legs, checking her wetness, withdrawing quickly.

I hope he enjoys it, Sakura thought, just as she felt the hot tip of his erection at her entrance.

“Ungh!” he groaned as he pushed forward.

As mentally ready as she thought she was, the sudden invasion pained her and she tensed up, which only increased the pain. His hand fondled her right breast as he pressed into her more deeply. His rhythmic grunting should have spurred her on, but it did not. It hurt and with every thrust of his, the pain increased, until she forced herself to think of something else entirely.

Of all possible things, it was him she thought of. Was Tsunade shouting at him right now? He would look bored, his hands in his pockets, waiting for the storm to be over. Would he spare a thought for her? It was almost as if he heard him say: You are one of the bravest, most capable women I know. Do not doubt yourself. Be proud of who you are, always. Okay? Kakashi had always made her feel… special. He had always given her courage when she had despaired.

To her relief, it did not take long before her husband came with a suppressed moan, she felt him twitch inside of her and soon after, warm liquid trickled down her leg.

“S… sorry, I couldn’t hold back any longer,” he rasped, pulling out and collapsing on the sofa next to her. “Give me a few minutes, we can have another go and I can make sure you also finish.”

“It’s alright, Sasuke,” she lied, hoping no other go would happen for a while, “you know you have to see Tsunade now, don’t you.”

“Yes,” he agreed sullenly, “but Tsunade will be busy yelling at Kakashi for a while. She won’t miss me just yet.”

Sakura hoped Kakashi did not have a hard time with Tsunade. She could be so vicious, their Hokage and really, Kakashi staying with her tonight instead of rushing to report was nothing that deserved being yelled at. Should she go to the Hokage Tower to explain what had happened? She probably should.

“I’ll come with you,” Sakura said, “let me go take a shower.”

It was only when she felt the warm water had relaxed her enough that a strange question came into her head. Kakashi’s heartbeat. Why had it increased when she had hugged him? It was almost as if... but no. What kind of a silly cow was she?

***

“How dare you be angry! I am angry! I’m ballistic! WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED LAST NIGHT??!”

Tsunade’s anger was almost worse than a physical assault, it took a lot of willpower to stand your ground in the face of it. But it wasn’t the first time Kakashi had to experience her in this state and like any case-hardened general, he knew when to look a storm in the eye and calmly wait it out - always at the ready to dodge objects suddenly hurled in his direction.

Only… he wasn’t as calm as he usually was. He was indeed rather angry and he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. Shout back at her? She could throw him in prison or worse if she wanted to. And maybe, if he was honest, he wasn’t only angry at her, but even more angry at himself.

“It’s you who owe me some answers,” Kakashi said coolly, “I am insulted by how easily you think you can manipulate me.”

“You don’t speak to me like that!” she raged, her face a reddish hue. “I am your Hokage! Become Hokage yourself if you think you can do better!”

“No, thank you,” Kakashi shuddered, “you can keep that job, but I won’t back down today, Tsunade. Why did you call Sakura to ‘care’ for me? Why let her take me to her place?”

There was a word stuck in his head. Bait. Him being with her at that particular point in time… him racing back to the apartment at a hunch… it felt too much like somebody had used him as bait. But… what kind of bait? For what kind of fish? The pieces of the puzzle did not fit, however long he looked at them.

“Why?” Tsunade breathed heavily, helping herself to some sake and downing a cup without missing a beat, “because that woman is the only person I know that can keep you in check.”

“What?” Kakashi asked, sure he had not heard right. Keep him in check?

“She is the only person I have ever heard you speak of with a load of respect,” Tsunade continued. “Or call it admiration, I don’t care. You’re out of control and she is my last trump, that’s what it is.”

Huh? This made no sense. Tsunade was not answering his question, was she.

“Don’t look at me all innocent and naive like that,” Tsunade said grimly, “somebody tipped those people off and I bet it was you, successfully drawing them out, am I right? There is no insider. Or rather - you are the insider. Ha, I changed the access codes and you won't be told!”

Kakashi thought it wise to remain silent. And indeed, she just continued on, not even wanting to hear him defend himself. “You are so damn reckless and arrogant, you think you can battle an army by yourself and come away unscathed?”

“Well, I did battle them all by myself and came away almost unscathed,” Kakashi shrugged. “It’s not arrogant if it’s true. Only about ten were able to flee. The rest is dead. I’d call that a success.”

“You went behind my back!” Tsunade shouted. “You never consulted with me, you just went ahead and let yourself be captured by these people! What if we had not found you in time? What if… what if you had not been successful last night? What would have happened to Konoha then?”

Kakashi pulled a face. “No need to talk about ‘what ifs’”, he said.

Though he had to agree, it was goddamn risky. And what had almost happened to Sakura… if he was in any way to blame for it, he would never be able to forgive himself.

“Then let’s talk about coincidences instead! Isn’t it a little strange the Uchiha comes back today of all days?”

Very strange, yes. But damn, he wouldn’t admit to that even under torture. He had sent Pakkun to find him five days ago, but had no clue why. But the worst was… why had he done all that and not consulted with her? The Hokage was the Supreme Commander, in charge of everything going on in the different military branches. It wasn’t good if he had gone behind her back. It was damn suspicious. It reminded him of… he suppressed a shudder. That organization he’d rather not think of. But Danzō Shimura was dead and with him ‘the roots that grow in the dark’.

“He’s been due to return for a while,” Kakashi shrugged, pushing away the unpleasant thoughts of things that had almost gone horribly wrong in his youth.

“I know for a fact you had no clue where the Uchiha was,” Tsunade shot back, “and you were worried about it. You can’t fool me with your kind Sensei-act, Kakashi. You of all people know that kid is trouble. I do not understand why you keep vouching for him, risking your good name - and where that belief comes from that he can… or wants to become a normal citizen of Konoha again.”

“Because I know him. And after all he did for the village after his bad deeds…”

“I thought you don’t remember?” Tsunade’s hand with the sake cup stopped in mid air.

“I remember almost everything,” Kakashi lied.

“You have to try much harder if you want to fool me,” Tsunade grumbled. “You’re an awful liar.”

“Fine, I still don’t remember a lot of things,” Kakashi sighed, “but I have come to think it has something to do with me losing the Sharingan. It all gets particularly muddled before... or after that.”

“Aha,” Tsunade sneered, “you think? Of course it has something to do with that blasted Sharingan, everything about you is always about that thing.”

Kakashi stared at her.

“You look surprised,” Tsunade observed, “you don’t remember? Okay, let me tell you. You lost that special eye of yours and your entire personality changed. First, you mourned that loss for at least a year, then you began training like a madman, basically living on the training ground. Once you had developed new techniques you don’t need the Sharingan for, you started volunteering for the most dangerous S-Rank missions, likely to prove to yourself you still had it in you. By that time, you by far outclassed all other active shinobi already, but you kept going and training and being… obsessed. Useful for me, but rather crazy.”

Pakkun had said the same, had he not. It didn’t sound like him at all though. Training like a madman? He had never needed to train much for anything. Well... he heaved a sigh. He had had the Sharingan before, maybe that was why.

“So… the pills?” Kakashi asked, deciding to skip this part of his forgotten past for the time being. “Did you make them? They affect my eight gates, don’t they? That was quite the effect last night.”

Tsunade stared at him in turn. “Don’t tell me you swallowed them without remembering what they do? Don’t you know how dangerous that is?! Shit, Kakashi. Get a grip!”

She helped herself to more sake. Should he tell her that drinking in the morning was a sure sign of alcoholism and that it wasn’t good that Konoha’s Hokage was an alcoholic? She may think he was a risk to Konoha, but she was the much bigger risk, all things considered. An alcoholic with horrible mood swings and a temper that resembled an armed bomb.

“Kabuto makes them,” she informed him. “He no longer works at the orphanage. He joined the medical-team and is in charge of soldier health. These pills are part of our soldier enhancement program. But you won't get them anymore for the time being, you are far too unstable.”

“Excuse me? Did you just say Kabuto?” Okay, maybe he was in worse shape than he had thought. His ears were not working properly.

“Kakashi,” the Hokage sighed, “I am thoroughly fed up with you. Yes, Kabuto. What’s the big deal? You are ready to trust Sasuke, despite all he has done - so why are you surprised Kabuto is getting a second chance too?”

Because… at the mention of Kabuto’s name, he had felt an instant and massive dislike in his gut, and Kakashi knew from experience that his gut had to be trusted.

“He has been instrumental in helping us get the most out of the small shinobi force I still have at my disposal,” Tsunade explained, frowning at him, “you worked quite closely with him for a while.”

“Are you sure?” Kakashi asked flabbergasted. “Don’t tell me you let out Orochimaru too?”

“Dammit!” Tsunade shouted, and Kakashi felt shock to realize that indeed, Orochimaru was no longer in a high-security prison either, “I am grounding you completely, do you understand! You are removed from active duty until further notice. You will not put a foot outside of Konoha before we have fixed what is wrong with you. Did you come up with a good plan at least, you and Sakura?”

Kakashi pondered that question. Removing the seals had seemed like a good plan to him, but was it really? The more information he received, the less sure he was he even wanted to remember. Besides, Tsunade’s “last trump” was probably ineffective now that Sasuke was back. Kakashi was certain Sasuke was the jealous type, all the Uchihas he had known were. To the point of being obsessed with the object of their admiration, which led to all kinds of erratic behavior.

Speaking of which… what had he been thinking hugging her back?! Would he have kissed her next if Sasuke had not returned? It disturbed him a great deal that he could not answer this question with a definite no.

“Are you falling asleep?” Tsunade asked sharply. “Why the dreamy look on your face?”

“I haven’t slept much,” Kakashi explained. But enough to have silly dreams that resonated long after waking. Get a grip, Kakashi, he told himself.

“Who tells me you’re not in cahoots with the Uchiha kid?”

“To do what?” Kakashi frowned.

“Take over Konoha! What do I know!”

“If I wanted to take over Konoha,” Kakashi snapped, “I would have accepted your repeated offer to become Hokage a while ago, don’t you think? What bullshit are you sprouting!”

“Don’t talk to me like that!” Tsunade yelled. “Have a little respect, you insufferable man!”

And crash, a sake cup shattered behind him on the wall. Her aim was horrible this morning. Granted, she had had to get up in the middle of the night to avert a crisis he was responsible for and he knew how much she valued her beauty sleep. Kakashi sighed. This was going nowhere.

“Lady Tsunade,” he said more calmly, “we need to get Sasuke and Sakura a place to live until we can be sure there’s no more threat. I was thinking…”

“They can live here, I want eyes on the Uchiha kid every second of the day,” she ordered still fuming, “tell Yamato to work out the details. On the third floor, I don’t care.”

“Yes,” he nodded. One of the guest apartments at the Hokage tower was a good solution.

“I want you in the Anbu quarters. Closely watched by Yamato.”

“Okay,” Kakashi agreed, somewhat relieved. That was better than a holding cell, Yamato was a reasonable guy. And the Anbu quarters were close enough so that he could also have an eye on Sasuke… and Sakura. Though given what thoughts kept creeping into his head, he should probably just stay away. Far away.

“Lady Tsunade, please convince Sakura to go for a medical check-up,” he added because even if he stayed away, he wanted her safe and sound.

“You think that is necessary?” Tsunade frowned.

“Yes,” Kakashi said, “she was very badly shaken, but I don’t think she wants to admit it to herself.”

“I’ll do it,” Tsunade said, sounding a little gentler than before. “Thank you. Thank you, Kakashi, for being there when it mattered. Even though… I still think you’re an idiot!”

As he dodged a stapler, Kakashi noticed movement from the corner of his eye and turned his head, but it was only Shizune, looking rather timid. She must have gathered her courage to enter for a while already, not daring to intervene in their heated discussion until it had seemingly calmed down.

“Ah, Shizune,” the Hokage said, “what is it?”

“Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura are here to see you, Lady Tsunade,” Shizune said and waved at Kakashi with a shy smile.

“Already?” Tsunade murmured. “What are young kids doing these days? No wonder our population is dwindling. Fine, lead them in!”

“And the Anbu ask whether to proceed with dissecting the bodies? No secrets could be discovered from just examining the outer shell.”

“Get Kabuto!” Tsunade ordered. “Tell him to use all his tricks. There has to be something!”

“Can I go see?” Kakashi asked eagerly.

“No, you can’t!” Tsunade snapped. “You are going back to the Anbu headquarters and sit still until I have different orders for you.”

“I can’t sit still!” Kakashi exclaimed in shock.

“Then learn how to do it, dammit.”

“Can I… can I at least visit somebody?”

“Whom?” Tsunade demanded to know, narrowing her eyes.

“Anko. Anko Mitarashi. She is a Chūnin exams proctor and teacher at the academy. We’re… old friends.”

“Ohhhhhhhh,” Tsunade said and Kakashi saw with a sinking feeling how a broad grin spread on her previously angry face. “By all means, by all means! Make yourself at home here, Kakashi. Find your roots in Konoha. It’ll only do you good.”

“I thought you needed me out in the field again in no time?” he murmured. Had he just walked into a trap without noticing? Seriously, sometimes… he just did not understand women.

“Well,” Tsunade chirped, “that was before you eradicated the prime threat we have been facing for the last few years. Now, you can take a holiday. Do something different for Konoha!”

“Okay,” Kakashi said, thinking their Hokage was just… too weird. “Can I go?”

“By all means, by all means!”

All things considered, Kakashi thought as he left, this had gone fairly well. He’d find things to do while being removed from active duty, it couldn’t be that hard. To start, he wanted to put flowers on Rin’s and Obito’s graves, he hadn’t been to see them in much too long. And then, he’d go see Anko and Bull and go for a walk around town.  Later, he’d visit Might Guy. And maybe drop by the Academy to see the little genins? Was Iruka still there? Him he had always liked.

Yes, there was plenty to do here in Konoha.

And eventually, he mused, he’d have to talk to Sasuke. Kakashi suspected the Uchiha might be able to help him with the puzzle now that Tsunade had failed to enlighten him much. After all, Pakkun had only found him when he had been quasi at the gates. So why had he come back at this particular point in time if not because he knew exactly what was going on?

 

Chapter Text

“What is taking so long? We’re only meeting Naruto,” Sasuke grumbled, his voice muffled by the bathroom door.

Only Naruto? Sakura rolled her eyes. Hinata was also going to be there and Ino with Sai, of course she wanted to look her best! If not, her childhood friend would tease her brutally about not taking good care of herself. So it was cameo pink lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, and a bit of blush... nothing too fancy or that would get her teased too.

She batted her eyelids at herself in the large mirror. Not bad! She had put on a purple dress for the occasion, it was new and even though cut just a tiny bit too short for her full comfort, she thought it brought out the color of her eyes really well. After checking her image one last time - she had bought a purple headband to go with the dress and had washed and carefully blow dried her hair - she stepped outside.

Sasuke was... nowhere to be seen.

But since the front door stood slightly ajar, she gathered he must have gone ahead. Sakura hastily grabbed a purse, the little brown one with the tassels she had bought on a whim not long ago, slipped into her sneakers… but no, they wouldn’t do. She hadn’t packed that many shoes, but she had had foresight enough to realize the need for dressing up might arise, so she had brought one pair of black pumps. They were slightly uncomfortable if she wore them for too long, but they would mainly be sitting down anyway.

Their temporary apartment was far more spacious than their real one and stylish in an understated, traditional kind of way, befitting important guests from other villages. Right after moving in, she had returned to work at the hospital. Their current abode was at least thirty minutes further away from her workplace than their other apartment, but she actually enjoyed the longish walks through town twice a day. The bustling streets and busy shops made her feel proud of Konoha and its inhabitants.

But where was Kakashi? It was like he had disappeared from the face of the earth again.

Tsunade had assured her he’d be in touch but had also made it clear that making him remember wasn’t a top priority anymore. That seemed very strange to her, but apparently, the situation was defused with the killing of such a high number of enemies.

To Sakura, it was unreal to hear stories told of that night everywhere she went. She wasn’t ready to believe half of it, but even then, it seemed Kakashi had single-handedly killed several dozen enemy soldiers! To honor him and his bravery, the people of Konoha had even given him a new nickname: Purple Fang of Konoha, in honor of his father’s nickname: Konoha’s White Fang.

It was well intended, but Sakura feared that Kakashi might not like to be reminded of his father. She had remembered how in one of her more desperate moments after the war, when she could not find Kakashi however much she looked for him, she had done a little research in the library and found out that Hatake Sakumo, a very capable Shinobi and sole parent, had committed suicide when Kakashi was only five years of age. The information was overall sketchy, but it seemed Sakumo had abandoned a mission in order to save his team-mates. The failure of that mission had come with highly unpleasant consequences for the Land of Fire and Sakumo had been brutally shunned by everyone afterwards because of it, eventually leading to a severe depression and his untimely death.

Imagining child Kakashi all alone and heartbroken made Sakura burst into tears every time she thought of it. But even so, she almost preferred it to thinking of him on those rooftops slaughtering enemies with his bare hands. “A most proficient killer” indeed, so proficient it was frightening. But she did not want him to be known as a killer, even with people dropping their voices in awe when they talked about him these days. He deserved better. Something different. True happiness… whatever that was.

Sakura rushed down the stairs, thinking she would have to ask Naruto whether he had heard from Kakashi, nodding to the Anbu guards at the door before she exited the building. Sasuke was waiting for her leaning against the red wall of the Hokage Tower, staring up into the darkening sky.

He looked… so cool. All the time, women turned their heads to look at him…. until they recognized who he was and quickly scurried away.

Oh well.

Sakura sighed and waited a short distance away for him to notice her.

She was still hopeful he would start feeling at home again in Konoha. She did everything in her power to make him feel welcome. She had already made onigiri for him twice, his favorite kind with okaka and tomatoes, even though she had hardly any time between shifts. Making a baby came up at least once a day and however many times she assured him she didn’t want one yet, he brushed it aside. Because of that, Sakura had decided she would not tell him about the birth control pills she was taking, even though she felt bad about keeping such a secret from him. Still, her job and especially her idea to open up a special mental health clinic for children was important to her - more important than having babies for the time being. Besides, the whole topic made her uncomfortable when it should have made her very happy that he found so much pleasure in her body. Sadly, she was just tired and listless these days and she was even beginning to think something was wrong with her, she really could not find any fulfillment even if she touched herself.

But what could it be? Tsunade had given her a very thorough check-up a few days ago, but had found nothing wrong with her. Nothing physically wrong. She might have to consult with a specialist.

“Hello! Sasuke! I’m ready!” Sakura declared and waved her arms through the air to catch his attention. What was Sasuke daydreaming about?

“Ah, you’re here,” he said and pushed himself away from the wall. After only a few steps, he took her hand into his, which made her grin like a fool. She was right to be hopeful! He only needed some more time… they needed some more time. They had spent so much more time apart than together, it was only natural they were somehow… estranged.

They were meeting Naruto and the others at a kakigori shave ice parlor. It had not changed in over twenty years, meaning it still had one of the best flavor selections in town and was much cheaper than all the new places, a true gem and quite the secret.

“Sakuraaaaa! Sasuke, Sasuke, Saaaasukeeeee!” Naruto’s enthusiastic voice boomed through the parlor as soon as they entered. He came running in their direction, toppling over his chair. Even as an adult, he was just so much like the boy who had constantly annoyed her, but tonight, he made her smile.

“Hi, Naruto!” Sakura said, “it took much too long to meet again!”

“Much too long,” he agreed grinning, “look at you, Sasuke! So grim and old!” he laughed and went in for a bear hug.

Sasuke stiffened at the show of affection, but only for a moment. A tiny but unmistakable smile pulled up the corners of his mouth right before he pushed Naruto away with force.

“You’re still lame,” he murmured and sat down at one of the tables in the middle of the room with his back to them.

He pretended to be unmoved by the reunion, but Sakura could see it in one of the mirrors to the side, the tiny smile stayed. It made her very happy to see it, so much so she just stood there like a dummy with a smile plastered on her face, watching how Naruto sat down opposite of Sasuke and started showering him with questions about where he had been, even though he should know Sasuke couldn’t say much.

Realizing this “conversation” would take a while because Naruto was tenacious and did not know when to stop and Sasuke would just call him an idiot from time to time, which only seemed to spurn Naruto on, Sakura went over to the figure seated upright at a smaller table by the wall.

“Hello Hinata”, Sakura smiled and put Naruto’s chair back upright, “wow, you look lovely tonight.”

Hinata’s long dark hair was flowing down her back freely and her cheeks were of a lovely, rosy color that reminded Sakura of her favorite type of roses. During their active shinobi days, none of them had worn clothes very advantageous to their figures, but today, Hinata wore a dark grey, tight dress with buttons all the way up, which made her look elegant and mysterious - like the heiress to an important clan that she was.

“Hi Sakura!” Hinata said with a faint blush, her hand touching her hair as if to check it was all in order. “Thanks a lot. You too.”

“How are things w…,” Sakura began when another loud voice from the entrance interrupted her.

“Sakuraaaaa!”

It was Ino, radiant and happy, pulling Sai in behind her. Here was a guy who had learned how to smile against all odds, Sakura thought a bit bitterly, even though he had been the most emotionally stunted person she had ever met in her life. After she had forcefully seated the slightly overwhelmed Sai down next to Naruto, Ino came flying towards Sakura and hugged her tightly, immediately drowning her with chatter and gossip about this and that.

“How long has Sasuke been back for?” she asked eventually, grabbing a menu since the owner was coming over to take their orders.

“Five days,” Sakura said after a quick calculation.

“Wow, you must be delirious,” Ino smiled and winked at her. “Are you still working much too much?”

“No, it’s okay at the moment,” Sakura said, asking herself whether she should tell Ino about their move to the Hokage Tower, but then, she would have to explain a lot more and… somehow… she didn’t think it wise to even mention Kakashi, it would raise suspicions she did not want to be confronted with. Before Ino had hooked up with Sai, they had met about once a week for drinks and dinner, often talking through half the night. Now that she saw Ino again, Sakura realized how much she missed those evenings. She really had nobody to confide in, hadn’t she?

“If only I could do something as useful as you, Sakura,” Hinata sighed.

“Shikamaru told me you volunteer at the orphanage?” Ino asked, “that’s really awesome, Hinata. Not everyone must slave away as an underpaid doctor.”

“Yes, I do,” Hinata nodded and smiled a little, “the children are so grateful for so little.”

Had Kakashi grown up at the orphanage after the death of his father? Sakura asked herself. She knew nothing about him, even though he had been such an important person in their lives. In her youth, she had been thoroughly selfish. Maybe she still was.

“When have you last been to a hairdresser? You look like a broom. And your eyebrows!” Ino suddenly exclaimed, shocking Sakura out of her thoughts. What? But before she could go ballistic, she realized Ino was laughing.

“Got your attention, didn’t I? What are you daydreaming about?”

As always, Ino looked as elegant and perfect as a rare orchid. Sometimes, it was hard for Sakura not to fall back into the old patterns of insecurity when Ino was around. No matter how old she got and what goals she reached, a part of her was still like the vulnerable little girl who had cried over her large forehead. Maybe that’s why she was overly needy for affection, she thought as she began eating her lime flavored ice. Because she was insecure.

“Sakura looks absolutely lovely tonight,” Hinata came to her defense.

“She should be glad she secured a catch early in life because she works so much she’d never meet another man. Oh wait, unless you consider some of the other doctors, but… no thank you, there’s not one among them that’s a… I’ll be damned,” her voice went up a pitch. “Look who just walked in.”

Sakura turned her head to see who deserved such a reaction… and froze.

Konoha’s most famous silver-haired shinobi, his giant, slobbering ninken Bull on a leash and next to him… Anko. A very… corpulent version of Anko.

Well. That certainly explained things. How stupid of her to worry about him even for a second.

“Wow, she put on weight,” Ino exclaimed. “She is at least twice the size she once was!”

“Shhhhh, she will hear you!” Sakura hissed.

“She is an instructor at the Academy,” Hinata added, as if that explained such a weight gain. “Besides, many men like their women a little round.”

“She has always liked dango,” Sakura mused, wondering if Hinata was right about that last part. Another thing to be insecure about: cup size. As for the rest… an active Shinobi could easily burn thousands upon thousands of calories a day, but an inactive one who kept up the same calorie intake? Of course you’d put on weight.

“Sensei! Sensei! SEEEEENSEI!” trust Naruto to shout the house down and give everybody a proper scare.

“Oh,” Kakashi said, looking in their direction with a smile, “hi.”

Had he cut his hair? Sakura thought it definitely looked a little shorter and slightly less messy. It looked… good. Like he looked … good in the casual, all black civilian clothing he was wearing. Of course he would look good and of course he would not show even the slightest bit of awareness that she might have been worried sick about his whereabouts. In fact, he had not acknowledged her more than the others. Maybe even less: He had not even looked at her.

“Look, it’s Team 7!” Anko laughed, “almost like a reunion!”

“Come! Sensei, come and join us! We only just got our ice!” Naruto waved in excitement.

They wouldn’t sit with them, Sakura was certain, they’d want their privacy. Good. She already felt extremely awkward, which was strange, because really, what did she care that Kakashi had suddenly appeared here of all places with Anko?

Kakashi looked at Anko with a raise of his eyebrows and she immediately nodded with enthusiasm. “They’re now at the age we were back when they had the Chunin exam. Imagine! I’m feeling nostalgic.”

He ordered something for her, taking nothing himself - of course, he didn’t like sweets - then they came over, Kakashi naturally gravitating towards the boys table, Anko joining the girls at theirs.

“Senpai,” Sai murmured politely, offering Kakashi his comfortable chair with a bow - earning him a crinkly smile and a pat on the shoulder.

“Bull, sit,” Kakashi ordered his dog after seating himself on a stool, but the dog paid him no heed, he put his huge paws on Naruto’s knees to slobber all over his face.

“Sorry,” Kakashi sighed, after pulling at the leash with no result, “I really don’t know why I never noticed before, but these ninken have no manners whatsoever.”

“How’s Pakkun, Sensei?” Naruto laughed, pushing the dog away and drying his face with his sleeve, “still letting people touch his paws for a reward?”

“He’s the worst,” Kakashi murmured, “no respect at all. The other day when he came to see me, he didn’t even say goodbye.”

“You’re just too softhearted,” Naruto offered his advice, “you have to show a strong hand with the animals you summon!”

“Sure,” Sakura murmured, “he’d know, wouldn’t he.”

“Anko Sensei, how have you been?” Ino asked sweetly, watching with unhidden fascination how Anko shoveled in her gigantic, sauce and toppings covered ice in record time.

“Not bad, not bad,” Anko replied with a grin, “especially in the last few days. It’s not everyday a man from your past returns and… ouf. Some people stay in shape.”

Ino giggled and threw Sakura one of her looks, which Sakura chose to ignore. If she hated one thing, it was people who bragged about their happy sex life. As she had just now discovered.

Anko had already finished her dessert and frowned at the empty cup. “Want another one?” Kakashi asked, turning up behind her so suddenly, Ino jumped and Sakura’s heart wanted to stop.

“Do you think I should?” Anko grinned up at him.

“No,” Kakashi laughed, “but I’ll buy you one anyway.”

“Let me come choose,” Anko beamed, happily following him to the counter, where she started to point at various flavors.

“Since when is your Sensei buying people things?” Ino mused, “didn’t you always say he’s cheap?”

“He is very well mannered,” Hinata said, “Father always says that there are only a few old-style Shinobi left in the village and the best of them is Hatake Kakashi.”

“He’s not that old,” Ino grinned. “Not father old, anyway. More like an older brother type old. Oh!”

Sakura swallowed, feeling her eyes grow as round as saucers. Had Anko just put her hand on … Kakashi Sensei’s ass? She couldn't believe this! How shameless could you get? Quickly, she turned her head away. She really did not want to be caught staring.

“Can’t keep her hands off him. She’s on an oxytocin high,” Ino whispered to her and giggled again. “I know the feeling. And if you train them well, they get so proficient, don’t they?”

Sakura’s mood, already tottering on the brink of foulness since the moment a certain somebody had walked in, took a definite nosedive.

“He was always by far the most good-looking among the jonin’s that taught us.” Ino observed. “I’d say he’s in the top three of good-looking men in this town to this day.”

“Huh?” Sakura pressed out.

“Not that I realized such things when I was twelve,” Ino laughed, “but during the time you trained with Tsunade, I developed a massive crush on him.”

“What?” Hinata and Sakura said at the same time.

“Are you two blind? Oh sorry, Hinata. You only ever had eyes for one guy. Oh, I forgot… you too, Sakura. Ohhhhhh, do you think she’s seen him without mask?! You ask her, Sakura!”

“What? No! What do I care whether she’s seen his face.”

“Don’t tell me you’re no longer curious. I bet you he is extremely handsome. He just has to be, with a body like his!”

What did Ino know of Kakashi’s body? Sakura thought angrily. But true, the black turtleneck he was wearing was tight enough to reveal the contours of that body in question, one had to be really blind not to see it. The rock-hard abs. The well sculpted back. The muscular arms. The neck. She was starting to feel a little warm.

“Are you drooling?” Ino asked suspiciously, “Sasuke will take your eyes out if he catches you!”

Drooling? Yes, maybe she was. She had touched all this, that was why. Should she tell Ino about it just to shut her up? A vicious part of her was dying to see her friend's mouth hang open. The less vicious part knew it was not a good idea.

“Are you two together, Anko?” Ino asked bluntly after Anko had returned with her second serving.

“Ack, you know,” Anko replied with an impish smile, “you can’t tie down the wind. Hatake Kakashi is not one to keep still, never was. I take what I can get, it has always been my philosophy. At the moment… he is a little bored,” Anko giggled, “but I won’t complain if you know what I mean.”

No, I don’t know what you mean, Sakura thought angrily. Bored? Why is he bored? And why has he not come to see me if he’s bored?

“So… have you seen him without mask?”

“Haha,” Anko laughed, “I won’t tell you that.”

“Oh, come on!” Ino pouted.

“I know you kids always plotted to unmask him. Even if I knew what he looks like I would never spoil the mystery.”

“So you don’t?”

“I didn’t say that!” Anko winked.

“I guess he has to take off his mask for some activities,” Ino smirked.

“Haha, you little smartypants,” Anko grinned. “I have no idea what you are referring to.”

And on they went with this lame joke and the insinuation, on and on! Sakura pulled a disgusted face. When she felt Hinata’s disturbed gaze on her, Sakura realized Naruto’s girlfriend had seen her facial expression.

“You don’t like it that they talk about him like this, don’t you?” Hinata said gently. “I understand. Our teachers are like parents to us.”

A parent? The thought actually sobered her a little, but upon a short reflection, Sakura could be certain that she wasn’t angry because she thought of Kakashi as a father. No, she was put off because she had expected… more dignity from him. Yes, that had to be it. Or maybe others to respect the dignity? Hmmm… maybe she wasn’t sure what ticked her off.

“Girls!” Naruto screamed, “we’re going somewhere else!”

“A bar,” Sai smiled, stepping behind Ino and putting his hands on her shoulders, “there’s a new one, Naruto says, they have a glass roof through which you can see the stars! Tonight is almost a full moon, it should be very pretty.”

“Oh really?” Ino clapped her hands, “that’s great! Are the Senseis coming too?”

“Of course they are,” Naruto cried, “are you not Kakashi Sensei?”

“I guess you’re all at drinking age by now,” Kakashi mused, “you don’t need a chaperone.”

“Very funny,” Naruto grinned.

“I don’t think I can take Bull to a bar. So... no. It was nice seeing you all again but...”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take big doggie home,” Anko said and took the leash from Kakashi's hand, “I am terribly tired from this week. There’s always so much to do before the Chunin exams! I’d prefer an early night.”

“I bet you he is going to offer to go with her now,” Ino whispered to Sakura.

“I’ll walk you home,” Kakashi said.

“Told you so,” Ino smirked, “he has good manners.”

“Feeling too old to go with the kids?” Anko laughed. “I have your dog with me, believe me, I will be safe. Go with your Team 7, Kakashi!”

Kakashi looked undecided and Sakura thought it opportune to stomp out since she really did not want to hear any more innuendo from Ino. But it didn’t take long for everybody to come out too, their cheerful voices echoing from the walls of the houses as they began following Naruto who took the lead. Sasuke took her hand again and even pressed it briefly, making some of her good mood come back.

The bar wasn’t far and because it was relatively early, there was sufficient space for them in a nice little booth at the back with several small, round tables. The entire interior was very dark like the night sky, with sprinkles of tiny lights like stars. Soon, Sakura was sipping a sweet drink that had appeared in front of her without her having to do anything, surrounded by her friends and their lively conversation like a comfortable cocoon.

Kakashi hadn’t come after all. Part of her was relieved, she had had the opportunity to see with her own eyes that he was well… really well even and that he seemed happy. The other part of her would have liked to talk to him, at least briefly, just to… to… what? Maybe to tell him how worried she had been and that she would hope that in the future… but no. Silly and selfish again, he was under no obligation whatsoever to report to her.

There was another drink from Naruto and then another from someone else and then, a silver-haired shinobi walked into the bar with his usual, leisurely gait, stopping conversations all around as people recognized him. In the short silence that descended, he looked around unfazed, saw them and came in their direction, excited conversations starting up behind him as he made his way towards them.

“It’s nice here,” he commented and sat down next to Sai.

“Sensei!” Naruto asked, “we were just wondering, will you be at the Chunin exams?”

“Hmmm,” Kakashi said, “if I’m invited?”

“Of course you are, Senpai!” Sai cried, “we would be honored to have you!”

“I do not like this Senpai business one bit,” Ino told Sakura in a low voice, a deep frown showing on her lovely forehead, “you know how long it took me to turn Sai into a normal human being? I really don’t want a run-away husband like yours.”

Sakura pressed her lips together. “Sasuke is staying this time,” she lied, even though she couldn’t be sure, they hadn’t talked about it.

“Good for you,” Ino pouted. “But it must be true what they say: Kakashi is back in Anbu! In all honesty, I know they’re doing a lot for the village but I’ve never liked them one bit. Especially not for how they turned Sai into an emotional cripple.”

“Sai is doing great,” Sakura tried to reassure her friend, “he’s got you now,” but Ino seemed to grow increasingly unhappy as she watched Sai’s enraptured face.

“You can’t make them stop thinking they need to be heroes. All of them, only waiting for the opportunity to sacrifice themselves for the village. I must intervene,” Ino said and got up.

“Sai,” she smiled sweetly, “care to dance?”

There was a space in the middle of the room where three closely embracing couples were dancing to a slow and mournful song.

“Oh,” Sai said, interrupting his conversation with Kakashi, “Ino, I don’t know how.”

“Nonsense!” Into laughed, “I know you’ll be very good at it. I’ll show you!”

And off they went.

“Hinata, do you want to dance too?” Naruto asked with a grin. “I have no clue how to do it, but I’m sure I can figure it out!”

“I’d love to!” Hinata said happily.

Fine, Sakura thought looking at Sasuke, I am glad he does not ask me to dance, I know I’m really bad at it. Besides, I’d rather talk with h…

“Excuse me,” Sasuke said and got up rather abruptly. He looked pale, Sakura realized, but before she could ask what ailed him, he had already hurried away. To the bathroom? Should she follow? He wouldn’t appreciate it, probably.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” Kakashi said and when she turned her head, he was looking straight at her for the first time this evening. His dark eyes were like pools of liquid darkness, sparkling mysteriously in the low light of this room and his silver hair shimmered with the light of the rising moon that was just now becoming visible in the sky above them.

All Sakura felt was a wave of anger at his words. The breath-stopping good looks he was flaunting in her face did not help one bit.

“Not worry?” she pressed out, “you don’t tell me whether to worry or not.”

“You’re angry?” Kakashi asked cautiously, “because of something I did?”

Well, perceptive.

“You look very pretty tonight,” he added with a small smile, “the color of your dress brings out your eyes in the most remarkable way.”

And bam, he had disarmed her completely, just like that. How dare he use such underhanded tricks! How dare he be this nice after ignoring her for hours, days, how dare he…

“Where have you been?” she exclaimed, “I was worried!”

“Oh?” he shrugged. “Here and there, nothing special.”

“Why did you not come see me!”

“It’s… no longer urgent,” Kakashi said lightly, but she saw something flicker across his face that belied his easy tone. “The problem with the enemy seems solved for the moment.”

“I promised I’d remove the seals, I will do it!”

“Don’t worry about me,” he said, “you have better and more important things to do.”

“That is for me to decide,” she said angrily, “you are no longer my teacher, you have no say in my life.”

“That is true,” Kakashi said, “and I thank you for the reminder, Sakura.”

It was said in a neutral tone, but Sakura could still hear a hint of displeasure.

“I didn’t mean to…,” she began haltingly, realizing she would hate him to get the impression she wasn’t extremely grateful for what he had done for her or for this conversation to end with a disagreement between them.

“I understand,” he said and smiled a little. “You are absolutely right to put me in my place. I have a tendency to meddle and it doesn’t often turn out well.”

What was he saying? Sakura squinted at his face. The conversation was not at all going where she had thought it would go.

“You are using clever word tricks on me,” she murmured, “I’m at a disadvantage. I’ve had quite a few drinks and you? None. I notice these things. Who even goes to a bar and drinks nothing?”

“I’m not in the mood,” he answered lightly.

“Then why did you come?” she asked.

“For the company, of course,” he said.

He was a very smooth talker, had he always been?

“Maybe it's silly, but I am angry because you should have realized I would be worried and could at least have sent me a note saying that you’re fine. Instead, you disappeared again without a trace. I don’t want to worry, I hate worrying.”

“I am sorry,” he said, even managing to sound it, “I really did not think you would find time to worry about me.”

Why did he stress the me? Whom else should she worry about? Did he mean Sasuke? Well, she would have liked to worry about Sasuke, but Mr. Uchiha was even better at keeping everything to himself than Kakashi.

“Why do I get the feeling that you are avoiding me?” she continued bravely, “Why did you not speak to me in front of the others? Is it because I…,” well, out with it, “because I hugged you? I am sorry about it, okay, very sorry. Let’s pretend it never happened.”

His eyes softened. “Ah. That… I know I’m a bad liar, so I won’t even try. Yes, it’s because you hugged me. Or rather, because I hugged you back even though I know you are married to Sasuke. There are hugs and there are hugs, Sakura, and this hug… was not the kind of hug I am allowed to give you.”

Sakura squinted and frowned, trying to stop a shiver that wanted to crawl up her spine, trying to decide whether what he had just said meant what she thought it meant.

“What kind of a hug are you allowed to give me?”

“Sakura…” he sighed. “What is it you want to hear from me? I should have known better and I am sorry.”

“No hugs then?”

“No hugs,” he said grimly. “It’s best if you forget that night entirely, there is no good in asking questions.”

“I’m thinking about it a lot though,” she stubbornly said, “all aspects of it.”

“That is understandable. Hey!” he lifted his hand and moved closer to put it on her head, “do not worry. It will be…”

Before he could put it down and student-zone her again, she had already grabbed it tightly between her own and pulled it into her lap.

He stared at her. “What is it you want?” he asked quietly.

“To make sure you’re alright. Come to the hospital, I have consultation hours. My schedule is full, but I will make time for you, every day at six o'clock in the evening if I can.”

“I don’t think I should, Sakura,” Kakashi said slowly.

“Why?”

“Because…,” he looked at her face, suddenly looking a little lost. “Dammit, Sakura. You know why.”

Maybe she did. But maybe she wanted him to say it.

“I don’t know why,” she lied.

“Where there’s a spark, there will be a fire,” he said, starting a massive fluttering in her stomach, “and I know this one would be devastating.”

“Do you think me so weak?” she protested, sounding much more confident than she felt. “Do you think I cannot control a mere spark? I am not suggesting we start an affair. I want to see you purely professionally. Because I care about Konoha. And Konoha needs you, Kakashi.”

So there. She could say his name without adding the Sensei and neither did her tongue fall off nor the sky collapse.

He exhaled slowly. Then, he lifted his free hand and gently moved a strand of her hair behind her ear.

“I do not think you weak, Sakura. You are very strong.” He pulled his other hand from hers and stood up. “It is myself I don’t trust to control this spark. Not because I think I am weak myself, but because...” his voice trailed off but his eyes rested on hers.

She stood up as well, finding it hard to breathe.

“...it's because I do not really want to,” he said very quietly.

"I'll just bring lots and lots of water," she heard herself say, "we should be able to make sure the fire does not get out of control."

"Oh?" he chuckled. "Well then we won't have an issue, won't we."

"Will you come?" Sakura begged. "Please, Kakashi. Six o'clock on Monday. I think I know just the Genjutsu that will help. I did a little research."

Sakura saw that Sasuke was coming back from wherever he had gone off to. His hair looked wet as if he had doused it in water to cool himself down. Kakashi noticed him too.

"Okay, I will think about it," he said a little surprisingly. "But for now I need a word with your husband. Will you excuse me?"

What else could she do but nod? Kakashi went to meet Sasuke half-way, took his arm and together, the two men exited the bar, leaving her alone with her confusing thoughts, wondering what the heck was going on.

Chapter Text

“Will you STOP THIS ALREADY!”

Surprised to be yelled at by somebody normally so stoic, Kakashi stared at Yamato’s deeply red face and heaving chest.

“Sorry,” he said and folded his hands.

“Senpai,” Yamato sighed, “with all due respect, you are driving me insane.”

Huh? All Kakashi had done was throw purple chakra balls at the wall but only so that they did not leave any traces, which Kakashi thought was extra crafty. He had to imagine the wall a few inches thicker than it was and pull back the force right when it hit the imaginary wall and not the real wall. In addition, he had to control the power so that it did not leak any unwanted chakra forward. It was quite hard, but he was improving fast. Sure, there was a sound, very similar to the Chidori sound, but it was rather soft and as Kakashi thought, pleasant. Why was Yamato so touchy today?

Kakashi looked a little closer at his junior behind his desk in the Anbu administrative office. Lots and lots of paperwork even though it was only the beginning of the week. Yamato’s hands were trembling ever so faintly. There were dark shadows under his eyes. He probably hadn’t slept much.

“Are you overworked again, Tenzō?” Kakashi asked with a frown. “You should learn to say ‘no’.”

“That is not my name, Senpai, and you know it,” Yamato replied sullenly.

“To me, it is,” Kakashi said and stretched, trying to release some of the tension in his back. “There is no honor in dying from too much paperwork, you know.”

“Ha!” Yamata scoffed, “somebody’s got to do it.”

He had a point, Kakashi thought. It had always baffled him just how much administrative work the running of a village, its missions, and its personnel required. Well, as long as it wasn’t him who had to do it...

“Continue the good work,” Kakashi murmured and flopped back into the comfortable chair in front of Yamato’s desk. Why not run through some of the most complicated jutsu, trying to further improve his hand sign speed?

“Senpai…”, Yamato began patiently.

“Yes, Tenzō?”

“Can you find something else to do, please?”

Kakashi lifted his eyebrows. Was he being kicked out?

“I need to finish writing three lengthy reports until tomorrow,” Yamato said patiently. “Since you do not seem inclined to help me, please remove yourself from my office.”

My office, was it? Apparently, dear Yamato had taken root in here. Which was a hilarious thought considering Yamato’s Wood Release abilities. Should he check for actual roots underneath the desk?

Yamato sighed. “Why are you extra restless today, Senpai? Anything important coming up?”

“Oh, you know…”

“Or are you deliberately getting on my nerves so that I will go beg Tsunade to give you something to do? The strategy isn’t bad, but Lady Tsunade is far more intimidating than you, Senpai. You won’t be successful in the end. Spare me, please.”

Tsunade wasn’t only intimidating. She was also ruthless. Of all punishments, being forced to be idle like this was by far the worst for somebody like Kakashi. There was nothing to read in the Anbu HQ apart from literature about tactical, operational and strategic aspects of missions and warfare that he knew by heart, you could only throw shuriken at targets for so many hours per day, push-ups and the likes got very boring quickly, and the younger Anbu members were so timid, they hardly dared talk to him. Kakashi hated to be worshipped, always had. He didn’t even want people to pay particular attention to him, that only increased the likelihood of getting unwanted tasks. To make things worse, Anko was working at the academy until very late every day, his ninken refused to be summoned if there was no task, Might Guy was on a hot-spring holiday, and… Kakashi sighed deeply. Everybody was busy except him. And yes… today, it was particularly torturous to sit still.

“Out with it, Senpai,” Yamato smiled. “There is something on your mind.”

“I have an appointment,” Kakashi admitted, “but I’m not sure whether I should go or not.”

“Aha,” Yamato nodded. “A date?”

“No!” His denial sounded much too defensive.

Yamato looked at him with mild amusement. “Okay, not a date,” he smiled. “But I bet you it’s with a woman.”

Kakashi pressed his lips together. Was he that obvious? That was bad. He didn’t even understand why he was so nervous. He could simply not go and that would be it, end of story. But the problem was he wanted to go and see Sakura, purely professionally, of course.

Thinking back to what he had so bluntly told her two days ago made him feel utterly embarrassed now. A spark developing into a devastating fire? What had he been thinking? Obviously nothing. He should have sat on his mouth and simply stayed away. Why had he even talked to her.

“So what if it’s a woman,” Kakashi murmured.

She had looked so… so absolutely stunning that night he had had to work hard not to stare at her. The dress she had put on had highlighted all the right things, her hair, her eyes… her body, her legs, her waist, her shapely bosom. He had managed to look away, but he had still been very aware of her presence, as if all his nerves were attuned to her, as if her chakra signature was sending out a signal he could not help but hone in on.

Like a silly moth that was drawn to a flame. Water? It would come too late, one misstep and he would burn to a crisp within seconds.

“You are seeing Anko, are you not, Senpai,” Yamato observed.

Kakashi had told him he needed his privacy and to let him walk around the village on his own, without Anbu guards breathing down his neck. It was ridiculous that Tsunade thought he would try and flee anyway, where please should he go? He had lived in Konoha all his life and he was planning to die here too.

Anko was warm and funny, she made him feel welcome and content. She had not believed her eyes when he had knocked at her door, but it had been a very natural reconnection. Not that he had planned to start sleeping with her again, but there had been enough lingering attraction on both sides for it to happen that very evening. But Kakashi knew Anko well enough. She was an impulsive person and at the same time very attuned to her own desires. Anko knew what she wanted and always went for it, which included diversity in her bed. She had called him boring before, but his appetites just did not extend to most of hers. So yes, he was “seeing her”, but it was going to be a temporary thing.

“What if I am,” Kakashi said.

“It does you good, Senpai,” Yamato informed him, “you are much more relaxed than before.”

Oh really? Like he wasn’t always relaxed. Relaxed was his second name. He did not like it one bit that Yamato was observing him this closely and was gathering such insights… that he was most likely sharing with the Lady Hokage!

“Maybe you should try being with somebody too,” Kakashi snapped at Yamato, “relaxed is not something I would associate with you of late.”

“Ah, no,” Yamato said sadly, “I don’t have the time for relationships.”

“That’s just sad,” Kakashi said and shook his head, “married to the job, are we?”

“Maybe I have not found the right person yet,” Yamato said stubbornly, “but this isn’t about me. It’s about you…you and your not-date. I have had the ‘pleasure’ to observe you all day, Senpai and I happen to know you from the past. Something about your upcoming not-date is bugging you big time. I bet you it’s because you’re attracted to that woman and it scares you.”

What the… gone too far was gone too far.

“This is absolutely none of your business,” Kakashi said angrily. “This conversation is over.”

“So I’m right,” Yamato sighed. “Please keep your wits about you, Senpai, there are things afoot I have a very bad feeling about.”

“Do you mean Kabuto?” Kakashi tried his luck, but like in all the instances he had brought up the Medical-Nin before, Yamato didn't answer. He was stubbornly loyal, had always been, which was one of his good qualities… or bad if one was the target he was sent to eliminate. It was clear to Kakashi that Yamato knew things he wasn’t allowed to share, like what the results of the enemy autopsy had been, and it bugged him a lot to be kept out of the loop, as if he were a liability or even a danger.

So yes, he was going to see Sakura later, he thought. Maybe Tsunade didn’t think making him remember was still a priority, but Kakashi himself was feeling increasingly worried.

When asked about the timing of his return, Sasuke had told him he had gotten a message from him, Kakashi, calling him back to Konoha. But if he had sent Pakkun to find Sasuke, he had not known where he was. It made no sense, unless somebody posing as Kakashi who knew where Sasuke was had sent the message. Sasuke claimed he had been surprised by it, since his return had only been scheduled for about 6 months in the future, but he had immediately complied, seeing how the message conveyed urgency. It had also used all the correct code words in the right sequence, code words only Kakashi and Sasuke knew.

Call it gut-feeling or call it cowardice, but Kakashi had not told the Uchiha about his amnesia. His relationship with Sasuke was a strained one, partially because of Kakashi’s history with other people from the Uchiha Clan, partially from their interactions over Sasuke’s defection from Konoha. Kakashi knew that Sasuke had always seen him as a rival - much like he saw every strong shinobi as one. But to Kakashi, Sasuke was for and foremost Itachi Uchiha’s little brother who had seen so much trauma he deserved special leniency, a kid Kakashi had failed to keep on the right path despite being his teacher. To this day, he considered Sasuke Uchiha his responsibility, even if Sasuke himself would never agree to be treated as someone who needed help.

So it was mainly caution which kept him from telling Sasuke about his own troubles, mixed with embarrassment about his failings. Appearing weak in front of Sasuke was simply not an option. Anyway, before they could start speaking in earnest, Sakura had burst out of the bar behind them, demanding to know what was going on.

She had quickly spotted that Sasuke had developed a fever, though not a particularly high one and she had forced him to go home immediately after.

If there was one person who could ensure the darkness in Sasuke’s heart was kept at bay, it was Sakura. It was minuscule reactions, but Kakashi had a keen eye for microexpressions. When Sakura was near, Sasuke felt more at ease with life.

Which made what he had confessed to her in that bar so much more despicable.

Even if a keen eye for microexpressions could easily see how strained their relationship currently was, Sakura had spent more than half her life working to make this relationship a relationship, whereas Sasuke, if he admitted it to himself or not, was kept sane and human by this woman.

And he was not the only one.

“If Sai asks to rejoin Anbu, deny it,” Kakashi told Yamato before getting up. “I suspect he might come to see you soon.”

“Why deny it?” Yamato exclaimed, “he’s an excellent soldier. We could use him!”

“Because he deserves to be happy, that is why,” Kakashi said. “He has learned to smile and love, let him be.”

“Okay,” Yamato nodded, “I see what you mean. But you know, Anbu these days isn’t like R…,” he shut his mouth forcefully, looking spooked.

To this day, ex-members of Root had difficulties saying the name of the organization. That was how deep the mental conditioning went, even years after the organization was disbanded. There were no Cursed Tongue Eradication Seals anymore, ‘given to the Unseen ones who supported the great tree of Konoha from the depths of the earth’. But that seal had worked even without being activated and it still lingered as a threat in the back of their minds.

“Even so. I do not want to rip families apart,” Kakashi said, quickly suppressing his own memories of his darkest hours, “doesn’t matter if they volunteer. Make it a rule. People in working relationships are not allowed into Anbu.”

It came as a slight surprise to Kakashi that Yamato nodded in agreement without even questioning his words. Married to the job, indeed. But who was he to judge, he was the same. He grinned. Growing old together with Yamato? There were worse fates.

“What’s the time?” he asked his junior, feeling the briefly forgotten nervousness in his throat again.

“Just get a watch,” Yamato sighed, “it’s… five twenty three. So you are going to your not-date?”

Was he?

“I’ll think about it,” Kakashi said.

He would decide once he was at the hospital. The one thing he needed to be sure of was that he could muster the necessary will to draw very firm lines. It wasn’t that hard. It couldn’t be. Or could it?

***

When the large clock hand finally reached the top, Sakura felt a strange sensation, a half pleasant, half unpleasant mix between excitement and annoyance. Excitement because it was possible Kakashi would show up, annoyance because she was certain that if he did, he would be late.

Which meant she was stuck here getting more and more nervous, wondering whether he would appear at all.

Earlier today, she had decided she would give him fifteen minutes, no more. Now she was thinking that maybe, fifteen was too little and that she would be angry with herself if she went home and later found out that he had come to see her.

Sakura pulled a face. Things were already much too complicated! Even if she had come to the conclusion that she must have misunderstood Kakashi somewhere along the way. She had been fairly drunk at the time of their chat and the whole evening, including those strange feelings of anger directed towards him, felt like a dream to her now. Besides, she had got to worry about Sasuke right after, taking her mind off their interaction for a while.

Sasuke was sick.

He had caught a virus, nothing bad, but still sufficient to force him into bed. He had no appetite but she made a light healthy broth for him, used a wet cloth to wipe his forehead occasionally and was content to sit next to him, hold his hand and watch him sleep restlessly all Sunday long.

This morning, she had assured herself he wasn’t worse - he still had a mild fever but was otherwise on the mend - and had gone to work after leaving him with everything he needed to get through the day without discomfort. There was an important management meeting to attend to and two surgeries to perform. The afternoon had been filled with patient consultations and now, it was 6 o’clock.

It would be a lie to say she had not awaited this particular time with great impatience.

There was a book in the hospital library that she had taken to her office last week. It was about the use of Genjutsu for healing. The author was not considered a serious scholar, he had been an eccentric loner living in some forest, but a few years ago, she had pulled it out of the shelf quite by coincidence - wondering about the symbol of a snail on its spine - and had started to read in it.

It was badly written and the structure was confusing, but something about it had left an impression on her, so that she had remembered it the other day and had gone looking for it.

There was a key to every lock and seals were not much different from locks. Breaking a seal required finding the key. Of course, no Fūinjutsu wielder would let a key lie around, but just like with real locks, it was possible to guess and make a key from a thorough study of the lock.

If she was to thoroughly study the locks in Kakashi's head, she needed time. Most Genjutsu were short-lived, used in battle to gain an advantage of surprise or shock over the opponent. Keeping the illusions up for more than fifteen minutes was a feat not many Shinobis were capable of.

Some Genjutsu meddled with the experience of time, however. The worst of them was Tsukuyomi, and luckily, one needed a Mangekyō Sharingan to inflict that upon a victim, which meant there was exactly one person in the world who could use this particular torture jutsu. But in that book she had read about a much friendlier use of time-warping Genjutsu.

The unnamed technique that was described was used to prolong the limited time one had to do something pleasant and it needed to agreement of two people present to work properly. The one wielding this jutsu could use a series of hand signs with which to end the illusion and, according to the author, kept the awareness of being the controller of this Genjutsu at all times. It was also impossible to get lost in the dream world because of the body’s natural limits. Once the body in the real world grew tired or hungry, the Genjutsu would naturally fall apart, propelling both people out of it.

Sakura had been a kunoichi long enough to know and understand that every jutsu came with risks. The bigger the effect on and thus the resistance from the opponent, the higher the cost of wielding a jutsu. But since this one was a joint effort, it seemed very low-risk to her.

The clock showed 6.05 pm by now and Sakura sighed. Why was she fooling herself? Kakashi wouldn’t come. He had made it fairly clear there was no urgency anymore and he seemed to function well despite his amnesia. Maybe it was silly of her to worry about him anyway.

There was a knock.

Confused, she stood up. That couldn’t be him, it was much too early.

Another knock. Not from the direction of the door. She swiveled around and... there he was. Outside the window, waving to her. For a moment, she just stared at him. Maybe she had really not believed he would come. And since when was he basically on time?! A few deep breath and she had caught herself sufficiently to open the window, trying to get her quickly mounting nervousness under control.

“Don’t you people use doors?” she asked stepping aside so he could jump in.

“I sat on the roof making up my mind,” he said a bit breathless, “and then the entrance seemed too far down.”

“How did you even find my window?”

“Shinobi ways,” he grinned.

“Please have a seat,” she said, pointing to the black leather chair in front of her desk. She would treat him like any other patient, she had decided, that would be the best strategy.

He sat down, looking at her expectantly. He was wearing civilian clothing again, only this time, it was dark grey and not black. It was interesting, Sakura thought, that his eyes looked dark grey with this outfit and not their usual black. She seated herself behind her desk and moved some paper around from the left to the right and back to buy herself some time. Should she say something about his spark and fire comment? She would hate for him to get the wrong impression. But she also feared to embarrass herself. The hugging, that could be excused, giving the circumstances last week. But to indicate she could not stop thinking about him, his kindness, his heartbeat… his words… she didn’t understand what it all meant, but could she expect him to help her?

“I have about twenty minutes left,” she said instead, “but for the first session, this should suffice.”

At the mention of ‘first session’, he lifted his eyebrows. Had he thought this was going to be a one-off thing? No, this was going to be a lot of work.

“So here’s the thing,” Sakura said, “there is a special Genjutsu that I would like to try with you.”

And she explained to him what she had read and that she believed that if she was able to stay in his mind long enough to study the seals, she would be able to find the keys.

“I thought about it for quite some time and I don’t think there’s any particular risk,” Sakura ended her explanation.

“But you don’t know what you will find,” Kakashi said, sounding doubtful.

“I’ve seen the sealed doors in your head already, there won’t be any surprises. Besides, I’ll be careful with the unlocking,” she hurried to say. “I will consult with you before.”

He moved his head from side to side, looking worried.

“As soon as something unexpected happens, I’ll break the illusion,” she added. “I will be aware of being inside your mind and I can get out anytime I wish.”

“You’ve always been good at Genjutsu,” he observed, maybe to convince himself what she had suggested was no idiocy.

“Yes!” she nodded. “And I’ve gotten much better over the years. I’m confident this will work. At least, let me try.”

“Okay,” he agreed, even though he still looked mildly unhappy. “How does it work?”

“Stay there,” she said, feeling a rush of excitement sweep through her. New Genjutsu. That alone was worth it. She moved her chair next to his so that they could face each other. His legs were so long she had to put hers in between his so that they could sit close enough to hold hands comfortably.

She had not brought any water, she laughed inwardly, was that going to be a problem? The inside of his solid thighs was warm against her legs. He was very tense.

“Wait,” Kakashi breathed, briefly pressing her hands.

“Yes?” she swallowed.

“Will I… what will it be like for me?”

Like the first time she had used Genjutsu on him, he was visibly nervous. She could not blame him, a Genjutsu trap was the worst kind of experience for a shinobi and she knew he had lived through Itachi’s torturous Tsukuyomi, only emerging unscathed thanks to his own Sharingan and Tsunade’s healing power.

“More or less pleasant,” she smiled at him, “this is a shared illusion. Even if you will not be able to recognize it as such, I will be able to talk to you and explain everything.”

At least that’s what she thought.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay, if it’s that way… I’m ready.”

He took another deep breath and then looked into her eyes unflinching.

“It’s Ushi, Tora, Mi, Tatsu, Mi, Tatsu, Inu, Saru, Ee, Uma, Tora, Mee, Ee, Tori, Ushi, Uma, Tori, Mee, Nae, Sara, Oo, Sara, Jin, Sara, Tori, Tatsu, Tori,” she told him. “We need to do them together.”

He repeated the sequence of hand signs to her twice without a mistake and she nodded.

“That’s it. Three, two, one…”

They signalled in perfect unison and a mere heartbeat after forming the last hand sign, Sakura found herself in a different place than she had just been, no longer looking deeply into Kakashi’s eyes.

Only… this was not at all like the first time she had entered his mind. Maybe because this was a joint Genjutsu, maybe because something inside his mind had fundamentally changed, maybe because she was the biggest fool alive… she did not find herself in a dark hall with many doors full of discomforting sounds, she found herself in a very dense, very dark, extremely menacing forest.

“Oh shit,” she breathed. And for emphasis, “Oh SHIT, Kakashi, where are you?”

He was so fast she only saw a silver flash. A kunai was pressed against her throat painfully the next moment, her hands immobilized in his tight grip, making it impossible to perform ninjutsu.

“Who are you,” he rasped, “and who sent you?”

Low risk? Sakura didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The scent of blood around him was so thick she almost gagged. The black eye that looked at her through the slits of a kitsune mask with red and black markings around the eyes, sides, and mouth was as cold as ice.

The other eye was red. The black markings in it formed a pinwheel. An activated Mangekyō Sharingan.

 

Chapter Text

"Ouch, you're hurting me!" Sakura complained. She was very fond of her fingers and did not want them broken, not even in an illusion. Besides, she was getting very annoyed with the situation. This was not at all what had been described in the book!

"You're a medical-nin from Konoha?" Kakashi asked, letting his mismatched eyes glide over her headband, her forehead with the chakra seal and somewhat rudely down her body.

"Yes, obviously, Kakashi," Sakura said, trying to wiggle free, but he did not remove the knife on her throat nor did he slacken his painful grip, quite the opposite.

"How do you know my name," he rasped, pressing down on the blade. A sharp pain and faint trickle down her throat told her he had cut her skin.

"Ouch!" she cried. "Are you crazy? Because we know each other! I'm Sakura!"

"That's a lie," he said coldly, "I have never seen you before and I don't like it one bit that you pretend otherwise."

Oh great, Sakura thought, again feeling like laughing and crying at the same time, this Kakashi doesn't know me. What have I gotten myself into... WHO is controlling this illusion?

She shifted her eyes to get a better look at him in the gloomy green darkness that surrounded them. A grey flak jacket with no collar, naked shoulders revealing a muscular biceps, arm guards that went up to his elbows. Spiky silver hair, as unruly as ever above the kitsune mask that hid his entire face. Clearly an Anbu uniform. There was a lot of blood all over him too and if she wasn't mistaken...

"You're hurt," she said. Badly so, she realized with a sinking feeling. Wasn't this shared illusion supposed to be pleasant?

Now that she was paying attention, she felt the faint trembling of his arms. He was weakened, probably from blood loss. Should she try to break his hold? She was sure that dying in the illusion would have no real effect on her since she was fully aware this was only an illusion. If he cut her throat, it might hurt and be unpleasant, but she assumed she would just wake up back in her office.

"I can still effortlessly kill you," he informed her coldly, "don't even think about it."

"Let me help you," she suggested instead, a doctor's instinct and a good way to buy herself some time to find out what was going on.

"How did you find me?" Kakashi asked, still not letting go.

"I was sent to help you," Sakura lied, immediately chastising herself for not thinking this through. He could so easily check whether she knew the necessary code words Shinobi exchanged as a safety measure for these kind of meetings.

"Oh really?" he snarled, not even bothering with that, "you are a bad liar. Nobody knows I'm here and nobody cares. I live in the darkness."

The trembling in his arms got stronger. He seemed to be at his limit. Surely, having his Mangekyō Sharingan activated didn't help. This Kakashi, what was he? A guardian of the seals? Would the illusion collapse when he 'died'?

Before she could make up her mind what to do, there was a rustling sound near them and he went entirely rigid. The next moment, Sakura was catapulted upwards, then sideways, just in time to dodge a shower of shuriken. A dizzying series of jumps later, Kakashi stopped on the thick branch of a massive tree.

"Dammit," he coughed, still holding on to her tightly. "I knew you were a trap."

"That's bullshit!" she protested, "it's your thick blood scent that is like a beacon. Just let me heal you."

He just glared at her through the slits of his mask. Illusion or not, she knew how stubborn he was when it came to accepting help.

"Create shadow clones," she told him with authority, "the enemy will be confused. I'm fast, I won't need a lot of time."

He had obviously realized that he should better do what the medical-nin was telling him. He let go of her and created about thirty shadow clones, having them disappear noisily in different directions.

"Lie down," she ordered him sharply.

Controlling shadow clones like this when already running low on chakra was difficult and another glimpse at his masked face told her he was sweating profoundly. He did lie down next without any further resistance too - it seemed he had no energy left to fight her.

Quickly, she cut open his clothing with chakra. A ghastly wound on his abdomen was revealed, long and very deep. The edges were clean-cut, telling her it had been a really sharp sword. Again? Almost like the other week... she pushed the unpleasant memory aside.

"Shit," Sakura said, "how are you still walking with such a wound?"

No answer. Had he passed out? Yes, his eyes were closed, his breathing was shallow.

Sakura gathered power into her hands, glad to find herself with all her skills in this illusionary world. She mended his organs - luckily, his heart was intact - restored his muscles, his chakra network, his nerves, his skin, careful not to leave a scar. There was a lot of damage and she had to go down to cell level to make sure he was fine. It took much longer than she had expected, making her nervous some enemy could find them while she was preoccupied, but there was no unusual sound nor movement near them.

Once she was done, she had to rest a little, her hands on his stomach, her head bowed. She felt quite exhausted.

"It fucking hurts," Kakashi moaned. "Do you even know what you're doing?"

"Shut up!" she hissed. "I saved your life, you could at least say thank you."

"Isn't it your job to do this kind of thing?" He was looking at her with his normal eye only, keeping the Sharingan closed.

Sakura glared at illusionary Kakashi, considering reversing her healing jutsu just to let him experience dying. But now that the immediate crisis was averted, she should probably focus on finding out where she was and how she could find the seals if she didn't want all her efforts go to waste. Why not straight-out ask him.

"Are there any seals around here?"

"Huh?" he asked, sounding hugely annoyed.

"Sealed-off areas or something," she demanded to know, "huge doors with seals on them. Have you seen any?"

"What are you talking about, are you crazy?" he shot back.

So this Kakashi not only did not know her, he was also very unpleasant, she thought, staring at his mask.

"You can take your stupid mask off," she said, "I know who you are, no need to hide your face like this."

"I have no idea who you are, I will leave my mask on as long as it pleases me!" he barked back and tried to sit up.

"Don't move, you idiot," she yelled, "I should bring you to a hospital to heal properly, but at the very least, lie still for a while!"

"Can't," he groaned. "They're coming."

Of course, the movement opened up his wound again.

"I don't believe this," Sakura sighed. It would be best to just end the illusion and be done with this experiment.

She heard the enemies before she saw them, they were approaching as fast as the wind, leaving a ominous rustling in their wake - but when she set eyes on them, she froze in horror.

Oni-masks.

Kakashi threw himself forward and between herself and the attackers, hurling a barrage shuriken at them with such proficiency and speed, they died in almost complete silence.

Afterwards, he slowly toppled over.

Sakura caught his body in her arms before it could hit the ground, cradling him to her chest, thinking that maybe, she was the controller of this illusion after all... because saving him, getting to care for him, ensuring that he wouldn't die... it made her feel very good.

***

When an exhausted and dripping wet Sakura got back to the well-hidden and carefully booby-trapped cave she had deposited Kakashi in, she threw herself down on the cold stone floor to catch her breath before doing anything else.

She had found extraordinary things.

"I think I'm beginning to understand," she told his still form, too tired to do more than move her head to look at him from the side.

As soon as she had been certain no enemies had followed them to this place, Sakura decided to have a look around, knowing Kakashi was going to be unconscious for a while. The extended use of his Sharingan had always exhausted him so much, he had to sleep for days to replenish his chakra reserves.

Climbing a tall tree to the top had revealed a thick forest as far as the eye could see, with some haze in the distance. She had decided to go North a bit to see whether she would encounter anything interesting in that direction – hoping it wouldn't be oni-mask wearing assassins.

Sakura had travelled through the forest as fast as caution allowed, but there was nothing extraordinary... just more forest and more forest in endless gloomy darkness. Soon, the rain had started. Afterwards, everything was gloomy, dark, wet, and very slippery.

After an hour or more she had turned back.

She had a good sense of direction, which was lucky, because getting lost in this thicket was a real threat. People who were good at directions naturally noticed and remembered landmarks so they could orient themselves. Because of it, she had spotted a tree that was split in the middle, with an empty bird's nest inside the trunk. When Sakura encountered something that looked like that tree twice on her way back, she got suspicious. Luckily, she carried shuriken in her back pouch that she could hang from one of the branches just to make sure. And indeed ... whichever direction she travelled, sooner rather than later, she was back at that tree.

There could be no doubt: there was another illusion at work in this illusion!

When she had trained for genjutsu release, she had learned that some of the illusions could only be exposed by cutting off visual input because most genjutsu worked through the eyes. Walking around a thick, scary forest with her eyes closed wasn't what she would define as a favorite past-time, but she had little choice if she wanted to get to the bottom of this strange place. Establishing an invisible, stiff chakra thread to guide her, she closed her eyes and started walking with her arms outstretched, walking around trees when necessary but otherwise keeping a straight line from her point of departure.

And indeed. About half an hour in one direction and her fingers hit something that felt like a wall – opening her eyes only revealed more forest all around her, but her haptic senses could not be duped.

The same was true for all other directions. There were impenetrable, invisible barriers around them. She had her suspicions of what it could mean. All she had to do now was wait for the Kakashi simulacrum to wake up so she could confirm.

Sakura dozed off while waiting, little wonder after running around so much, having a weird dream in which she chased cats, dogs and frogs through the streets of Konoha, knowing she needed to catch them to avert a catastrophe. She woke again what seemed hours later with a stiff neck and shivering from the cold, noticing it had gotten much darker outside. Was it evening?

Kakashi stirred too.

She sat up and he turned his head in alarm... and then looked away.

"Hello to you too," Sakura said.

"Why are you still here," he said. "And... where have you brought me?"

He shot up, looking down at his cut open clothes and the flawless skin of his torso.

"Yeah," Sakura said, "thank you great Doctor Sakura from Konoha for saving me."

"I didn't ask for it," he murmured, looking around the small cave.

"Next time, I'll let you die," she snapped.

"Fine," he snapped back.

"We need a fire," Sakura said, swallowing down her anger. "I brought wood, luckily before the rain started."

He just stared at the wall.

"How old are you?" she asked him bluntly. It was hard to know because of the kitsune mask, but his stature was the same as always, so she was assuming illusionary Kakashi was his current age and not the age he had been when he had worn this uniform in the past.

"Old enough to know you have no business here," he answered gruffly. "Go away."

"How long have you been out here?"

"Not long enough," he answered.

"What if Konoha forgave you, would you come back?" she asked, fishing for the information she was hoping to get out of him, trying to confirm her hunch.

No answer. But his one open eye turned in her direction and wouldn't leave for a while. Her shivers were getting more violent, as much as she tried to hide them. It was damn cold here and she was still drenched through and through. To her surprise, he suddenly moved - but not to harm her as she briefly feared, but to build and light the fire. Swiftly done with it, he indicated to her with his chin to move closer. She did, grateful for some warmth, smiling and about to thank him, but Kakashi rudely turned his back on her and stared outside into the gathering darkness, clearly wanting nothing to do with her.

Extending her hands towards the flames, Sakura waited for her body to get warm and thought about what to do next. She had ample experience with men who didn't want to pay her any attention. With Sasuke, she had just tenaciously come back, every single time he had rejected her. With this one, she didn't have as much time. So, she would charge ahead and attempt to break that shell of his without mercy.

She could be sorry later.

It helped that Sakura suspected she knew why he was so gloomy and 'living in darkness'. She had encountered something else in what seemed to be the middle of this walled-in space: Two makeshift graves. There were two headbands lying on top of two mounds of stone, with limp flowers and leaves woven into bouquets next to them.

"Whose graves are they?" she asked him.

"My two only friends," Kakashi said emotionless, knowing straight away what she was referring to. "I killed them."

Ouf.

"Sometimes, we have no choice but to do horrible things," she said softly.

"We always have a choice," his answer came harshly. "Don't even try."

Oh Kakashi, Sakura thought, her heart reaching out to him. What guilt are you carrying around with you? Obito has gone to a better place, have you forgotten?

Yes, that had to be it. Kakashi had no recollection of losing his Sharingan so he had no recollection of what had happened afterwards either. A part of her understood this all too well: The most horrible nightmares were nothing compared to fighting the likes of Madara Uchiha in several dimensions, forgetting was a blessing.

"I see," she said instead, making her voice sound cold. "You are here to wallow in self-pity. Fine."

His surging anger was like a slap to the face and for a short moment, it looked like he would indeed hit her. But she held her ground unflinching, glaring back into his one eye with all the defiance she could muster.

"I happen to know that your friends died not because you wanted to kill them but because they chose to die. So yes, we always have a choice. But sometimes, people make choices for themselves that impact ours. Blaming yourself for the choices of your friends serves no purpose. Get over it. Move on."

Briefly, she saw herself talking like this to a patient and cringed in mortification. But this was no patient. It was a simulacra inside somebody's mind - somebody she considered a friend. And everybody needed honest friends.

"Who are you?" he asked again, seemingly unfazed by her harshness. "One of those pursuing me, thinking they can weasel themselves into my life now that Rin is gone?"

Rin.

He had called her that in his half-delirious state. She must be one of the friends he claimed to have killed. Had he loved her?

"What if I am?" she asked back. "What if I saw you in Konoha and developed a crush on you? What if I have come, knowing you would never return my feelings, but am just content to be able to help you like this?"

"If you are, get lost. You are not my type at all," he said but there was the slightest pause before his words, as if her confession surprised him. He had said she was 'so much like her', had he not?

"Do I remind you of her?" she asked to confirm.

She saw from his minuscule reaction that indeed, she did remind him of that woman. Being this swift in creating a crack in his shell, she should have felt satisfaction and pressed on forcefully. Instead, she hesitated. Illusion or not, she had no desire to hurt him and he was becoming much too vulnerable too quickly.

"I know how to get to the graves from here," she said, "I can show you tomorrow."

"They know too," he replied, "I don't want you to go there, it's too dangerous."

Of course, only somebody as stubborn as him would continue to pay his respects, potentially daily, even if an enemy force was basically waiting for him to show up there.

"Who are these people?" she asked him.

"Hannya Black Ops," he replied.

"Whom do they serve?"

"The Land of Woods, of course," he said, looking at her suspiciously.

"Is this... are we in the Land of Woods?" she asked.

"I was just considering believing you," Kakashi said dangerously, "but now I am back to thinking you're a very clumsy spy."

"I'm just a bit scatterbrained," she quickly lied, fluttering her eyelids at him. Where the heck was the Land of Woods? Far from the Land of Fire? Must be a tiny country not normally showing on the maps.

"I knew no woman would be stupid enough to follow me here just because she has a crush," he scoffed, but it sounded like he was actually quite glad she wasn't one of those women after all.

"You can go to sleep," he told her shortly after, "I will take watch."

How gallant. Now that he had assured himself she was no deranged fangirl, he became more courteous. Or...

"If you mean to leave in secret," she remarked lightly, "you might want to consider that I have set a lot of booby traps against your enemies. I'm guessing you're a very proficient shinobi, but still, finding and defusing all of them at night... it'll take you a lot of time. It'd be much smarter to set out together tomorrow."

"Now I see it," he said, with an snort.

"See what?"

"The similarity," he said, lying down next to the fire without any further ado. Soon, his regular breathing told Sakura that he was asleep. Fine, she thought with a small smile. She did not mind keeping watch at all.

***

Sakura didn't forget that this was an illusion she had voluntarily stepped into even for a second. Yet, it was quite strange how accustomed she got to it over the following days, almost as if she didn't want to realize she would not stay here for much longer. Humans had this remarkable gift to adapt, she had seen it at work many times before, and even without putting in an effort, it was what happened. It was a bit like a strange holiday. Very conveniently, she never got hungry in this world. She didn't have to go to the toilet either and could be sure not to suddenly get her period or experience any other inconveniences. Besides, this forest wasn't the worst of places.

Especially after it stopped raining. The sunlight that managed to get past the majestic crowns of the trees was golden all throughout the day and in its gentle warmth, the forest exploded in a cloud of the most fragrant wood-pine scent.

The changes in his behavior were far more subtle than the changes in the weather, but it almost seemed like they were connected. She could have sworn that the rain stopped instantly the first time she saw his eye crinkle.

She accompanied him to the graves every day. It was where he took off his Anbu mask and stood for hours with his head bowed and his hands folded. She accepted his need to grieve and pray, keeping an eye out for enemies, ready to defend his back.

But they seemed to have vanished completely.

They talked.

He seemed stuck in the time after the Fourth Hokage's death, thinking the Third had just taken over again. She talked about the war with him - the Third Shinobi World War she only knew from the history books but he had lived through. They talked about losing comrades. About feeling powerless in the face of danger, about fighting until all powers were depleted, knowing it wasn't enough, couldn't be enough, but somehow hoping it would be alright. They talked about killing, about feeling guilty. About how grief would swallow up the world and bury hope completely. But she also talked to him about finding new connections. About those who pulled your from the darkness. About those who believed, unwavering, that there was salvation.

"You are not alone," she told him again and again, until he nodded in acceptance, even if ever so slightly.

Some of the things he told her were surprising. Sakura had not realized how well Kakashi had known Itachi before the great Uchiha tragedy and neither had she realized how much he had cared for him. But she knew from experience how hard it was not to admire or even love the Uchihas for their fierce righteousness - and fear for them because of their extreme emotions that could so easily turn utterly dark.

It was during Kakashi's sad utterance that "sometimes those who want nothing but peace have to become the most proficient killers" that she took his hand to press it - and he did not pull it anyway. They sat in silence for quite a long time afterwards holding hands.

It was sometime later that she tripped over a root when they walked in the forest together and he caught her in his arms to prevent a nasty fall. The closeness made her heart race and for the first time since getting here she thought that maybe, she wasn't as much in control as she thought. She didn't really want him to let go, but he did, gently putting her on her feet and patting her head. It seemed it didn't matter what version of Kakashi she encountered, he liked doing that to reestablish lines.

But Sakura caught him looking at her in the days that followed. She liked it.

He didn't put his kitsune mask on any longer and even though his face mask hid more than it revealed, she saw that the darkness in him was beginning to give way to the light. And even though she knew this man wasn't the real Kakashi, it made her happy.

No alarms went off in her head, not even when he said "I lied. You are very much my type" nor when her legs turned to jelly and she had trouble breathing.

"Is there someone...," he asked cautiously, looking at her face with a quiet longing that made her heart contract.

"There... is...," she managed to say, but it made her feel awful afterwards even though she knew she would never be able to forgive herself had she lied.

"Then I'm sorry," he said and managed a rueful smile that almost brought tears to her eyes.

Goddammit, Sakura, she scolded herself, what are you doing?

He kept his distance as much as keeping your distance was possible when you lived together in a small cave, but at that point, resisting the strong physical pull was becoming a huge effort. Their lives had become intricately intertwined. Sakura could not get enough of him needing her, needing her to talk about the horrors of his past, needing her to tell him that things would be alright, that he had friends, that a lot of people cared for him.

That he also wanted her... that his eyes could not help but follow her when she walked around, that he did every little thing to make her days pleasant, that he looked shy sometimes when she returned his attention... she could not get enough of it either.

Had she accomplished what she had come here to do? Should she have broken the illusion a while ago, fully knowing that what she was doing was... not okay?

No.

She had come to study locks, but she had found a Kakashi who needed her to pull him out of the darkness. Could she be blamed for doing the pulling, and then sticking around to ensure he would not slip back? She thought not.

Who was controlling this illusion? She had no clue. Maybe, just maybe, it was both of them. And it seemed they both wanted the same thing.

It was inevitable.

It was a balmy night, one of those summer nights full of insect sounds, when falling asleep seemed a waste of opportunity and not smiling was impossible. Was it her that moved close to him or was it both of them moving at the same time? Was it her that turned her head to look at him or was it both of them at the same time? Was it her that leaned in? Was it her that grabbed his mask and pulled it down?

Did it matter?

When her lips met his, something like an electric current went through her, jolting all her nerves awake almost painfully. Blood began pounding in her ears like the beating of an ancient battle drum. His lips were soft and gentle, but his kiss was hesitant - of course, he had was probably confused. It wasn't really like her, but she was very impatient, eager to taste more, maybe because she knew, deep down, that this had to end and would end... soon. Her lips opened up, inviting in his tongue, and because the invitation was not immediately followed, she began nibbling on his lower lip, grazing the skin with her teeth, teasing it with her tongue. When he drew in a sharp breath and opened up his mouth in reaction, she pressed forward, darting her tongue into his mouth to explore. She found his tongue waiting but ready to respond to hers, soon leading to a teasing dance, back and forth.

A moan escaped her throat, long and guttural. Why did it seem to her that she had waited for this kiss for an eternity?

I want to sleep with him, she realized, I need to stop. This cannot happen.

But she couldn't stop. Kakashi had never mended his shirt after she had cut it open. Her hands did not even have to expend any effort to find his skin, feeling his muscular strength, his sculpted perfection. Sakura wanted him naked underneath her, inside of her, all of him at her service and she wanted it so much, she could not help but growl like a wildcat.

Ah, but too much was too much. The illusion around her began to waver, then crumbled. The first thing to disappear was him, leaving her with a hollow feeling of regret. Then, she stood in that place with the many doors and the discomforting sounds. She wanted to cry. Instead, she formed the necessary hand signs to get her out of there.

It worked instantly. Sakura opened her eyes with a shuddering breath.

The clock in her office showed 6.25 pm.

"What happened?" a dazed Kakashi in front her asked. "Did it work?"

Sometimes, making mistakes was a good thing. Sometimes, admitting mistakes was bad. Sometimes, good and bad was mixed up so much, those categories made no sense anymore.

"Well," Sakura said, trying to sound in control, "I think I made progress. There's many things I do not understand yet, but I think..."

What the fuck am I doing?

"Do you want me to come back tomorrow?"

Kakashi remembered nothing it seemed. It was like the book had described it: it was her who had been in control, her who had guided him. Of course she had to say no. She was in over her head so deep she did not know which way the surface was.

"Yes," she said, "if you can. 6pm."

It looked like he wanted to say something more. Did she look as shaken as she felt? They were sitting so very close.

Just go, go! she wished because she wanted him to stay so very badly.

He did leave, properly through the door, looking a bit at a loss. She just kept sitting where she was, trying to wrap her head around things.

Locks and seals?

There had been no lock, she had walked right in. And in the end, looking behind her in that room with the many doors, she had found one gate wide open. It led into a thick forest full of sunshine.

One thing seemed clear to her. The one who had put up the seals in the first place? It had to have been Kakashi himself. Who else but him could invite her right into those sealed off portions inside his mind?

 

Chapter Text

Kakashi felt… off. Something was bugging him but he could not quite put his finger on it. Like an itch that was only just developing and therefore could not yet be scratched. He was so deeply in thought trying to figure out what it was, he only noticed the strange looks he got by the time he was almost at the hospital’s front door. Oh, great. There were many gossipers in Konoha who were probably already trying to figure out what he was doing here. Tsunade would hear about it. Questions would be asked that he would not want to answer.

Nodding to a flock of nervous nurses looking in his direction, he stepped outside into the slightly chilly spring evening, his hands buried in the pockets of his pants. He felt like he needed some time to himself before returning to the cramped Anbu quarters. But where to?

After turning his head from side to side a few times he decided to walk to the right. Soon sauntering through the emptying streets of Konoha at a leisurely pace, Kakashi's nose picked up the smell of dinners being prepared in the apartments around him. Settling down had never been an option for him but in certain moments, there was a pang of regret that nobody waited for him at home with steaming dishes he could praise for their deliciousness.

Not true. Yamato must be waiting anxiously for him at the headquarters, with some ultra healthy food and supplements in pill form. So there, no need for regrets.

Kakashi walked further, noticing the special fragrance of the air. The days were getting longer, the temperatures were picking up, everything was exploding in bloom. And tonight, with a gentle wind from the East, there was the soothing and familiar scent of pine trees in the air. He had spent many hours of his life racing through vast forests with death on his heels, Kakashi mused, not least because several of Konoha’s more dangerous training areas were dense forests. Did he even like forests? It seemed he did, the pine tree scent seemed pleasant. He had always thought he preferred the ocean.

That thought brought him back to Sakura. No, there was no connection between trees, oceans and Sakura at all, but his mind obviously wanted to think of her. Which wasn’t a problem, he had mastered the spark very well, he thought with no little pride, or rather she had, with the necessary professional attitude. Maybe it was old age catching up with him, but he had worried a great deal about going to see her earlier, mulling over so many things that could go wrong. Because there were too many, he had actually decided to leave after sitting on the roof of the hospital for a bit. But then he had wanted to catch a glimpse of her through the window at least and that had done it. His hands had taken over command at this point and had knocked before his brain could intervene.

Trusting someone with his mind the way he had trusted her did not come easy to him. Among his most unpleasant memories were instances of being trapped in deadly Genjutsu like Tsukuyomi that crushed your very soul. The worst thing about it was knowing that moment your mind could no longer distinguish between illusion and reality was fast approaching, with nothing you could do to stop it. Once that threshold was reached, it was over. He understood that the Genjutsu Sakura had explained worked differently but knowing something was different from not resisting anyway and different from working up the necessary trust that she would build a world that was pleasant for both of them.

A world he would not remember.

So it was probably this, Kakashi thought, that made him feel so… off. There was another gap in his memory now, added to the gaps that were already there, gaps that made him extremely uneasy. One minute, he had looked deeply into her green eyes, marvelling at just how much their color reminded him of the sun shining on newly grown leaves, the next, he had felt like he was floating in the sky like a cloud, gently carried away by the wind, with no substance, no body… only to wake up twenty minutes later with no recollection of anything.

In addition, Sakura had looked at him rather spooked, which… well, he had decided not to prod her for more information if she was not ready to offer it, but now that he thought about it… things must be worse than she dared tell him.

Sighing deeply, Kakashi looked up and found himself very close to a building labeled 図書館 in bold letters above the door. Konoha’s public library! It looked bigger than he remembered but also considerably more run-down. No wonder, war torn societies had little funds to spare for leisure and pleasure. Seeing light inside, Kakashi went in through the glass doors on a whim.

“Kakashi-san,” the young woman behind her desk stammered when she turned her head and sprang up so hastily, she almost toppled over her chair.

“Am I disturbing you?” he asked, catching a glimpse of her name plate. Akane Okami - should he know her? No, she was too young. There were towers of books before her on the table and from the utensils also there - stickers, some sort of plastic, scissors, a ruler, paper - he guessed she must be in the process of cataloguing and labeling them.

“N...no, please come in,” she said, “we are open.”

Thinking her behavior a little strange, Kakashi strolled in. The main room of the library was very high and spacious and when its slightly musty smell hit Kakashi’s nose, he remembered coming here during his years in the academy when he had gotten bored with school and needed a diversion. Only three other people were currently also at the library: A pair of very young lovers who seemed to think libraries were good places to hide in for undisturbed kissing-practice and an elderly lady who seemed half blind and had to press her nose against the books to read the titles.

Kakashi went to where his teenage self had always walked, finding all the Icha Icha books lined up with not one volume missing. Pulling his favorite one out - Icha Icha Innocence - he flicked to page 127 to read one of the most memorable passages. Ah, nostalgia... He had tried many other romance series but none had ever quite clicked with him like Master Jiraya’s masterpiece.

Remembering another book he had recently started to read, he went looking further down the aisle, then changed to the next row. Ha… Ha… Haru… or was it Uchiha? No, here it was!

He pulled out Sakura's “The Special Mental Health Needs of Children: An Essay” and quickly found the page he had gotten to the last time. Sakura’s writing style was very straightforward, bordering on blunt. He kinda liked it even though he was certain other people would take offense with it. She talked about how many adults were able to rationalize the violence experienced during the 4th Shinobi World War and that it was mainly the children who struggled to recover from the stress of War and the deaths of those they knew. It was a passionate plea that stirred a feeling of guilt in him, he wasn’t even sure why.

“If you want to sit, Kakashi-san,” the young librarian said timidly, “we have comfortable seats over there.”

He looked up. She stood a bit to the side, pointing to a corner, hardly daring to look at him. Many years ago, he had gotten into the habit of reading in every possible situation and position and hence had not even noticed he was leaning against the shelves standing up.

How attentive of the young woman to think about his comfort. Kakashi flashed her a smile and watched in surprise how her head turned the color of a ripe tomato. Had he done something wrong? Gingerly walking over to the lounge in the corner, he flopped down.

Sakura's book wasn't long and being a fast reader, he was soon done. He put it down and looked up at the ceiling. This idea… it was brilliant and if he could at all, he wanted to help her turn it into reality. Why did Konoha not already have a special facility for children? It was many years after the war already and those children were about to become adults. No wonder nobody wanted to become a shinobi anymore - if this generation was so deeply scarred from what they had witnessed, why should they ever wish to become active soldiers? How far had she gotten with planning, he wondered? If they had time, he wanted to ask her about it. There were quite a few things that needed to be considered if this should become something more concrete, maybe he should…

“Kakashi-san, do you need a pen and paper?” the librarian asked, the items in her outstretched hands.

“Do I know you?” he asked, taking them with a nod.

“N… no,” the young woman stammered, “but… you saved my brother and father’s lives during the war.”

Oh.

“I see,” he murmured, unsure whether to ask more information or to pretend he remembered saving anybody’s life.

“Once you are Hokage,” she said timidly, “we will come offer our services to you.”

“Who says I will be Hokage?!”

He was so surprised, his tone was very gruff. Her face turned so white she looked like a ghost and she fled so fast Kakashi was hit by a gust of air. He felt instantly bad about making her feel like she had offended him. He wasn’t offended, of course. But sometimes, he could not wrap his head around the fact that he was somebody people in the village talked about like this, forming expectations about his future, when he himself lived from day to day, never knowing whether he would survive the week.

But now that he was grounded, the likelihood of dying was very low. And spending his time trying to figure out what was needed for a Mental Health Clinic for children seemed like time very well spent. Kakashi began to write down a few ideas and things to check. The most difficult thing would be to get enough money - the village was in a very tight financial spot with dwindling numbers of shinobi that could be sent on missions. He would have to inquire about the financial prowess of the Fire Daimyō and his family with Lady Tsunade and whether there was a way to talk to him about this need of theirs. Finding a good spot for such a facility… that, too, would be tricky. He imagined it would have to be near the academy so that the children would be able to live as normal a life as possible.

Kakashi spent some time making notes. When he was done, the young woman was nowhere to be seen. He dawdled around a little before putting Sakura’s book back into the shelf, hoping she would come back so that he could apologize to her for his brusqueness, but she was possibly hiding and waiting that he would leave. Oh well. Maybe he would just need to come back another time to apologize.

Besides, he was hungry. Ravenous, in fact. It suddenly felt like he hadn’t eaten for several days. Yamato and his food pills were not what he needed right now. His feet took him straight to Ramen Ichiraku next. No surprise there, he was already feeling nostalgic.

“Kakashi Sensei! I haven’t seen you in ages! Are you here alone?” Teuchi asked, his face lit up by a broad smile. Ayame waved at him from the stove.

“Yes,” Kakashi said, “it’s that kind of day.”

Teuchi served him his favorite ramen without asking what he wanted. It looked to Kakashi as if there was extra meat in it - or had the old man changed his recipes?

“Would you like more?” Ayame asked once Kakashi had cleared his bowl.

“No, thank you,” he said after adjusting his mask. “If I don't watch my weight someone will put me on a brutal diet.”

He nestled for his wallet, beginning to count out the necessary coins.

“It's on the house,” Teuchi said, putting his hand on Kakashi’s to stall him.

That seemed to be happening an awful lot to him lately.

His face must have shown his confusion because Teuchi explained: “You're doing so much for the village, it's our way to say thank you.”

“It’s my job,” Kakashi murmured, feeling how his face turned a little hot. Doing a lot? He was just sitting around being bored out of his wits! He did not deserve the praise and the generosity of these people. He was completely useless right now and without his Sharingan… he’d probably never be really useful again.

“Once you are Hokage,” Teuchi said, “we will deliver to your office anytime you feel like eating Ramen!”

“Tell me,” Kakashi said quietly, “why do people suddenly think I will be Hokage?”

Teuchi frowned as if that question was striking him as strange. “Now that you’re back at the village, isn’t that what will happen? Lady Tsunade always says you’ll be. Soon.”

Did she now. She had some nerve.

“Did she tell people to give me things for free?” he asked following a hunch. It made sense. Ground him. Send Sakura his way to ‘keep him in check’. Old ties, new roots. His amnesia seemed far more convenient to her than she would admit.

“She did suggest it,” the owner of Ramen Ichiraku nodded.

“Dammit,” Kakashi cursed and got up. “Sorry, Teuchi, Ayame,” he quickly added, “and thank you for the meal. I wish you a very pleasant evening.”

Walking away, he felt anger, but it had no real edge to it. He couldn’t blame Tsunade for his own actions, could he. That she would quickly take advantage of his current weakness was only to be expected. And yes, she had asked him to take over from her many times. Maybe he should go see her at the Hokage Tower right away to clear the air. He had no desire to be Hokage once and for all and she needed to understand that. Maybe she would let him go on missions again afterwards?

He had perhaps walked for 5 minutes when the presence of someone’s aura hit him like a fist to the stomach.

“What do you want?” he asked into the shadows, instantly on high alert. He wasn’t carrying any weapons, he realized when his hand wanted to sneak to his absent pouch.

A man stepped forward, the light from one of the street lamps reflecting off his glasses.

“Kakashi Sensei,” he said in that taunting tone of his, “Preoccupied, are we? You noticed me very late. I’ve been shadowing you for a while.”

Kakashi shifted his legs apart instantly, falling into a defensive stance without even thinking. Was that why he had felt so strange? A well-hidden presence following him and he too careless to realize?

“Now, now,” Kabuto said, “I think we left all that behind us, did we not?”

“We did?” Kakashi asked, not letting down his guard for a second. He knew Kabuto as one of the sliest, most dangerous and cruelest Shinobi, playing skillfully with his opponents emotions and weaknesses.

Kabuto sighed dramatically. “I know you never liked me, but why? Sure, I tread on a wrong path for a bit. But you and I, we have so much in common!”

“I don’t think so,” Kakashi ground out.

“But we do,” Kabuto shrugged. “Growing up in the orphanage for parts of our lives. Being handpicked by Danzo for special training in Root. Killing people very close to us and our hearts. But I’m not here to argue with you, Kakashi Sensei.”

It wasn’t good how much the mere presence of this man could upset him, Kakashi thought as he gritted his teeth. Had he not always preached that a Shinobi could not let his feelings get the better of him?

Kabuto sighed. “Dim your killing intent, Kakashi Sensei, or you will spook the honorable citizens of Konoha in their comfortable homes.”

“What is it that you want?” Kakashi asked, indeed trying to calm himself. Anger only made you commit mistakes.

“I’m here to help you,” Kabuto said, back to a sarcastic tone that grated on Kakashi’s nerves.

“That’s interesting,” Kakashi retorted, “I don’t remember needing your help.”

“Ah, but you do. Doesn't your arm hurt?”

What now?!

“I see from your face it doesn’t yet,” Kabuto smiled, “good, I’m relieved. But let me warn you. It soon will. And once it does, things will quickly go downhill for you.”

“You know what?” Kakashi snarled. “I’ll take a chance with that.”

Kabuto sighed again. “I guess you’ve always been a stubborn one? Fine. Please go and make Tsunade give you those pills again at the very least. If she doesn’t, make sure to come to me before you’re dead.”

Kakashi felt so much like sinking his fist into that smug face before him his hands twitched by his side. His arm? The pills? Pain? Dying? Of course, Kabuto was gaining great pleasure from his cluelessness. What else.

“Ah,” Kabuto said, turning around to leave. “One other thing. Consider it a tipp between friends: stop fooling around with Sasuke’s wife. This really isn’t a good time to anger the last remaining Uchiha.”

And with a last condescending smile, Kabuto vanished in a puff of smoke.

****

I kissed him. I kissed him. I kissed him!

Sakura couldn’t stop the chanting in her head. She couldn’t stop feeling equally mortified and giddy either. All she could do was groan and let her head fall on the open book before her with a thud. It wasn’t even real! It had been an illusion! But that made everything worse! She should have said something to Kakashi after the Genjutsu Release at the very least!

Like… hey, so we kissed in that illusion I plunged you in, no big deal. You said I’m ‘very much’ your type, how could I not go for it?

If he ever remembered this… Sakura groaned again. Would it not look like she had taken advantage of him in his state of not even recognizing her? She was in so much trouble! She should have broken the illusion the very first time she had realized he started to look at her with interest. But… he was mistaken, she wasn’t strong at all. She was a weakling with no self control.

Her being his type. Was that true? Were things people said in illusions to be taken as expressions of their real selves? And what about the things they did?! He had kissed her back after all - even if somehow reluctantly at first. Man, he was a goddamn good kisser - or was it just how she imagined him to be?

Sakura lifted her head and forced herself to continue reading in the Fūinjutsu book she had gotten from the hospital library. This one was way more scientific than the Genjutsu book but also written much too dryly. No wonder she couldn’t concentrate! She still felt his lips on hers and worse, the memory made her body hum in anticipation for something that wouldn’t come, couldn’t ever.

“Dammit,” Sakura said, thinking she would love to use far more colorful swear words. It was after 8pm and sitting around here trying to read was absolutely pointless. But the thought of returning home to her husband with all this unspent lust for another man still in her system was...condemnable. Sasuke probably wouldn't mind if she jumped him but…it was wrong. Wrong. All of this was wrong. Including her realization that a part of her had lingered here in the hope that Kakashi would come back. That he would remember what had happened and would initiate the next phase.

Sakura closed the book, took off her medical-nin gown, shook her hair and grimaced at her distorted reflection in the office window. What a stupid cow she was.

She walked out of the hospital unsure what to do next. Go for a walk through town? It was dark, but the air was pleasant. Eat something? Ramen Ichiraku came to mind, comfort food that had never failed to make her feel better… if eaten in the right company. But maybe it would help her find her footing even if she went alone.

Halfway there, she ran into someone.

“Akane!” Sakura greeted her pleasantly surprised, “I haven’t seen you in too long!”

“Oh! Hello, Sakura,” the young librarian smiled, “I missed you at the library all these months!”

“Ah,” Sakura said with a sigh, “life has caught up with me. I wish I could do another research project and spend my evenings with you.”

“I wish for that too,” the young woman said.

“Are you headed home only now?” Sakura asked. “Did you work late tonight?”

“Hm,” Akane said, “I did, but… well… your Sensei came by and...”

“What?!”

“Yes,” Akane nodded, seeming strangely embarrassed, “I think I offended him. I hid in the backroom until he left, way after closing time.”

“Akane…,” Sakura couldn’t help but laugh, “I doubt that you managed to offend Kakashi. He isn’t the type of person to take offence easily and you are the type of person who is much too kind to offend anyone.”

“Thanks for saying this, Sakura,” Akane said, hanging her head. “But…,” she sighed.

“Would you… would you care to have some ramen with me at Ramen Ichiraku?” Sakura tried her luck. Why had Kakashi gone to the library? She was dying to find out more.

“Oh!” Akane said, lifting her head. “Yes! That would be great!”

It wasn’t far and since they had a lot to chat about, they reached the street where the ramen place was in what felt like no time. But before they actually got there, someone rushed out of a side street and almost collided with them.

Ino.

“Sakura!” the blonde smiled, “what a pleasant surprise, you are actually out and about and not working!”

“Ino!” Sakura exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”

“I delivered some flowers,” Ino shrugged, “the customer wanted them tonight, he has a big marriage proposal coming up. And you? Out partying?”

“Well, we’re headed to Ramen Ichiraku,” Sakura explained, pointing her finger at the small restaurant down the street, “do you want to join us? This is Akane, she works late shifts at the library.”

“Hi Akane, I think we’ve met. That ramen place… isn’t that where you guys always went… Naruto’s favorite?”

“Yeah,” Sakura nodded, “it’s his favorite.”

“Sure, I’ll come!” Ino said, “I’m on a diet, but I’m sure they have salads too, no?”

Sakura wasn’t so sure whether the owner of Ramen Ichiraku had anything on the menu for women on diets but she was too happy to have met people to hang out with so she didn’t say anything.

“Sakura!” Teuchi greeted her when they stepped in, “now that is a surprise.”

“Hello Teuchi,” Sakura said, “I might not come by often but I always miss you!”

“What is it with tonight! Your Sensei was here! He left about half an hour ago,” Teuchi informed her.

“Oh,” Sakura gulped.

“I’m so glad we missed him!” Akane exclaimed.

Sakura had to explain to the others, who made very surprised faces, that Akane was under the impression to have insulted Kakashi and was therefore not at all inclined to see him. That brought the conversation to Kakashi’s visit at the library.

“He came to read your book, Sakura,” Akane informed them, making Sakura almost faint on the spot.

“I’ll be damned,” Ino said, “somebody other than myself read your book? It’s a bestseller!”

“He made notes too,” Akane said.

“I remember you talking about it,” Teuchi said impressed, putting three steaming bowls of deliciously smelling ramen in front of them, completely ignoring Ino’s request for a ‘small salad’.

“It’s nothing much…,” Sakura blushed.

“That might be true,” Ino agreed, the first to grab chopsticks and rub her hands in glee, “but it’s still a very good idea. Remember? We wanted to go talk to the council about it.”

“Kakashi-san will take care of it, I’m sure,” Akane said. “And once he is Hokage…”

“He didn’t like to hear me suggesting that,” Teuchi mused.

“I know!” Akane agreed eagerly. “He got so angry!”

Hokage? Sakura fished a piece of meat out of her soup, of course Kakashi would hate to be pestered about something like that, he was far too humble.

“Did you just call him Kakashi?” Ino asked and Sakura almost swallowed the meat whole. Had she said that out loud? Uh-oh...

“Do tell,” Ino said, her eyes narrowed to slits, “when did your relationship status change?”

Sakura busied herself with slurping her noodles extra loud, pretending to be deaf on both ears. Ino had a sixth sense as if her nose was outfitted with special sniffing organs for intimate secrets and if she was onto her… When Teuchi asked whether she wanted more, she agreed overly eagerly, just to be able to continue slurping loudly. Of course, it was naive to think Ino would leave her alone. Ino’s eyes did not shift from her face even for a second and in her desperation, Sakura went for a third bowl. With the result that she felt so bloated and full she wanted to puke afterwards.

Ino took care of the bill and before Sakura could come up with an escape plan, the three of them had entered a small sake place across the street.

“I should go home,” Sakura said. Had Kakashi been here too? She almost expected it to be the case, on this evening of near-misses.

“Nonsense,” Ino retorted, “you missed my birthday and now we’ll make up for it.”

“That’s not true, I didn’t miss your…”

“Akane, do you drink?” Ino inquired, not paying Sakura any heed.

“Not really,” the young woman admitted, “but a little bit doesn’t hurt, right?”

Sakura meant to warn her, but it was too late. It was never ‘a little bit’ with Ino. They started with a selection of six sakes for each to find one they liked and it went downhill fast because they could not make up their minds.

“So, my dear friend,” Ino asked sweetly some time late when Akane had put her head on the table and it looked like the young woman had fallen asleep, “when did you start to drop the Sensei?”

Traps, traps, traps all around, Sakura squinted at Ino and considered lying, but that was no use, she knew it.

“L… last week?” she said, unsure herself for a moment, but that was it. At that bar.

“Have you two been meeting each other more often?”

“N… not yet,” Sakura heard herself say.

“Oh dear,” Ino said, shaking her head, “this isn’t good.”

“I know,” Sakura said tearfully, “I know.”

“So you plan to meet him more often? I can’t blame you,” Ino sighed, “a woman gets lonely.”

“It has nothing to do with being lonely! He… he was there for me when something really awful happened, he stayed with me… no, not what you’re thinking, he was just there, holding me, comforting me… he is… he needs…,” but his secrets were not hers to share.

“It has everything to do with it,” Ino said, “what does Sasuke expect? You’re such a beautiful woman in your prime, does he think you’ll keep on waiting for him until you’re old and grey?”

“Sasuke wants a child,” Sakura said, looking at Ino for a reaction.

Her friend shook her head. “And you?”

“I… not yet. It’s too early.”

“He probably feels the burden of being the last of his clan,” Ino suggested, “if he dies…”

“Don’t say that!” Sakura said horrified.

“Sorry,” Ino apologized, “but that’s definitely an issue. For the whole of Konoha, actually. No more Sharingan in all its variants? Wow, that would be another heavy blow for us…”

“He can breed Sharingan carriers with somebody else,” Sakura said viciously, “I’m not an Uchiha incubator.”

“Hm, Sakura,” Ino said, “I don’t think he sees you as an incubator. I think Sasuke is very much in love with you.”

Did Ino just want to make her feel better? Sakura looked at her, at a loss what to say.

“And how do you know this?” she pressed out.

“Well, for one, he has just come in here, looking for you.”

Sakura swiveled around and indeed... There he was, Sasuke Uchiha, his black hair covering half of his face, his cloak covering his missing limb so that it would not be quite as obvious that he was impaired. His dark eyes found hers and he scowled, looking even more displeased than usual.

“Oh. I guess it’s late,” Sakura said.

“I’ve got this,” Ino told her, indicating the table and Akane. “You go home. Girlfriend, I’m here if you need to talk.”

“Thanks, Ino,” Sakura said and hugged her friend tightly.

“Pffft,” Ino said, “just don’t do anything you’ll regret, you hear me?”

Sasuke and Sakura walked home in silence. She didn’t care, in fact, she was glad she didn’t have to make conversation. The scent of pine trees in the air was a timely reminder that in an illusion of her own making, she had kissed another man.

But once he had closed the door of their current apartment behind them, Sasuke grabbed her arm.

“Please do not do this again,” he said. “Do you know how worried I was?”

Sakura looked at him and his ever scowling countenance. “No, Sasuke. I don’t know such things. You never tell me anything. I’ll admit, I forget about you tonight. I’m sorry, I’m not used to this… this thing called marriage. Happens when you’re always alone.”

“Sakura…”

“I know, I know. Not your fault, but maybe that's just an excuse. You know what? I’m tired and I’ve got work tomorrow. Goodnight.”

And she stomped off towards the bathroom to brush her teeth and take a shower. Maybe it was better if she slept in the guestroom tonight.

 

Chapter Text

6.53 pm.

Sakura was so exhausted she could barely walk back to her office. It was one of those days you wanted to erase from your life completely, hoping not a sliver of a memory would remain - yet you knew there would be no such mercy, your soul was forever tarnished by the horrors you had experienced.

She had been roused way before sunrise by two Anbu members who had knocked persistently and with mounting impatience until Sasuke had opened the apartment door. They had informed Sakura with brusque words she was needed immediately at the hospital, the Lady Hokage was already waiting.

Curing her own hangovers was easy for Sakura, it was just like removing any other poison. But there was nothing that she could do to properly prepare herself for the kind of carnage that awaited her in the ICUs. Two Anbu squads had been ambushed outside and whatever monster it was that had done this kind of damage to their bodies, it shook awake the terror and blackest of despairs in her she sadly knew all too well from the past war. If this was how humanity treated life, what hope was there for humanity?

The first thing she noticed when she opened her office door was Kakashi sitting outside her window, reading a book with a dull looking cover.

She hadn't forgotten about their appointment, in fact, she had thought about it several times during the day, but with a mounting feeling of regret that had only fed her despair. She had become convinced she would not be able to see him. Sakura had even doubted she would be able to go home before the next morning, if at all.

But there he was, looking at her through the window like it was the most normal thing that a Shinobi of his class would sit on such a small ledge on the third floor and wait for her even though she was almost a full hour late.

Her legs shook violently from exhaustion and where her feet touched the ground there was a sea of searing pain, but she managed to walk to the window and open it without falling over and making a fool of herself.

"You shouldn't have waited for me," she said instead of a greeting after he had climbed in, immediately hating herself for making it sound like a reproach when in truth, she could not imagine anything more welcome than seeing him.

"I don't have a watch," he replied smoothly, "I completely forgot time."

It was clearly an excuse, he really was bad at lying. He had waited because however disinterested he seemed in general, he cared about a lot of things. And apparently, he cared about seeing her. What was keeping her from burying her face into his chest and crying her eyes out?

Nothing.

Sakura stumbled forward and threw her hands around his middle, pressing her face against his shirt. Grief balled itself together into a red-hot orb that was rising up in her throat, choking her.

Kakashi said nothing when she started sobbing uncontrollably, her whole body shaking so much it seemed like she couldn't stand up any longer. He just held her, tightening his arms around her shoulders, later using one hand to stroke her hair, simply letting her cry. He smelled of mandarin oranges with a hint of freshly mown grass, she would simply not let go, never again.

"Better?" He asked when the tears ceased and very gently began to disengage her arms from around himself.

No! She hung on, desperately but ultimately in vain. He brought a proper distance between them by keeping her at arm's length and peered into her eyes with concern.

"I shouldn't have come at all," he said, "it was selfish. You look completely exhausted. Should I accompany you home?"

"No!" Sakura exclaimed.

"Have you eaten anything?" he continued his questioning. Sakura nodded though with little vigor. Special food pills for medical-nin, she wouldn't have been able to keep anything else down.

He looked skeptical. He also looked worried in a familiar kind of way, exactly like those people waiting outside the operating rooms for news about how the operation had gone. Right. How could she have forgotten, these people she had treated today were his comrades, some of them might even be his friends.

But why come to her for this? He could as well have asked Tsunade. Or Yamato. Unless...

"Has anybody talked to you about what happened last night?" Sakura asked.

Kakashi shook his head, his face betraying even more of his turmoil now.

Ah. That's why he was here. Tsunade was still punishing him for reasons Sakura couldn't quite understand. They had left him in the dark as if he were a security threat.

"Sit down," Sakura said and pointed to the patient chair, "I'll tell you everything I know."

She herself fell into her own chair with a suppressed groan. Getting up again would be difficult. She really had no energy left.

"You do not need to do this," Kakashi said after sitting down, a sentence Sakura found too familiar and frankly annoying.

"I don't, but I want to," she retorted curtly.

And she told him in few words about ripped off limbs and bodies that had been slashed open, about the screams of the wounded, her, Shizune and Tsunade's teamwork, the exhaustion after hours and hours of focusing chakra on ripped arteries and failing hearts so that three Anbu members would maybe survive while seventeen others died gruesome, painful deaths.

Funny how recounting these horrors felt like purging herself off the worst of the shame she felt from not being able to save more of them, how her blunt emotionless words took with them some of the grief as they left her mouth, maybe to blossom anew inside of him. It would have helped had he wailed and sobbed because she always managed to become the calmest when people around her lost it. But Kakashi had seen his own share of horrors, this was nothing to a battle hardened soldier like him.

Yet, when she had finished, he briefly closed his eyes. She couldn't bear to see the look of defeat and despair crossing his face.

"I really tried everything," she mumbled, feeling an urge to explain herself, "but so many of them died."

"It's not your fault," Kakashi said bitterly, "I know you did your best, you always do."

If it wasn't her fault, whose fault was it then? So many lives lost. So many futures destroyed. What was the point of getting up in the morning if in the end, there was only death?

"I hope Tsunade lets me go out and catch those bastards," Kakashi ground out. "I'm going crazy not being able to do anything!"

For a moment, I feared you were among the wounded, Sakura remembered the numbing shock this morning she had felt before realizing she had mistaken another silver haired man for Kakashi, may you stay grounded forever, I don't want you in the field.

"What is out there?" Sakura asked him, because she had not have time to talk to Tsunade at all even though they had been in the room together all day and because she was pretty certain the Hokage was not inclined to tell her.

The thing had claws, long and sharp ones and it had teeth to rip arms out of sockets and heads off shoulders. But if such a monster was loose, shouldn't they have heard of it before from other villages?

Kakashi's blank stare brought her back to reality fast. Right. He didn't remember. Why? He had sealed off parts of his mind himself. Why? She had no clue.

"Should we try the Genjutsu again?" she asked him, trying to muster the necessary strength to get out of her chair and walk around the table to sit opposite of him.

"You must have almost depleted your chakra," Kakashi said. "Let's forget about it today."

Whom was he trying to fool? He would probably give his right arm to be able to get over his amnesia, it was written all over his face.

"Let me do this, please," she said, adding that last word quite strategically, "I will feel better afterwards."

Maybe I will meet your alter ego in the forest again? she hoped. Would he remember her? It wasn't too bad if he didn't, all that mattered was that he opened up to her again, like last time. Yes, of course she had mainly been thinking about the kiss, but in addition, having been the one to make a grim, grieving person smile made her very happy.

Sakura knew about herself that helping people was what she wanted the most. The harder it was to help, the bigger her satisfaction when she succeeded. More, she wanted people to need her, people like Sasuke, whose hearts were beating out of sync with the rest of humanity. There could be no doubt about it, she wanted Kakashi to need her too. A man never moved to strong emotions unless he was defending the lives of people he cared for. A man who was always friendly but never let anyone get close to him. A man who had experienced things in his past that should have left him warped and broken yet lived with little apparent scars or regrets. What was his secret?

"Alright," Kakashi said and moved his chair so that she could take a seat opposite him like the night before.

Of course he remembered the sequence of hand signs without having to ask for it again. He may have lost his Sharingan, but it made little difference: he remained one of Konoha's finest Shinobi and in her current state of misguided infatuation, it made her feel stupidly proud.

Upon the last "Tori" they spoke together Sakura found herself engulfed in utter blackness as if a thick sack had been pulled over her head.

Surprised, she drew a shaking breath, but before she could begin to orient herself, she was back in the office, sitting on the chair with her legs pressed against Kakashi's. Mere seconds had passed.

Shit.

"What happened?" Kakashi asked with a frown.

Sakura shook her head, frowning too. Was her chakra too low? She had been kicked out of the illusion.

"Let's try again."

They did. Upon the last hand sign, utter blackness engulfed her, like all light had been snuffed out at the snap of a finger.

"Kakashi"? she asked into the dark, hearing how her voice lost itself in what seemed to be a very large, empty room made from stone. And in it... a lurking presence... - she blinked. Dammit! Back where there was light, back in the office!

"Curse this, I cannot seem to build a world," she admitted, "everything is slipping right past me."

"I knew you were too tired," Kakashi said sternly. "It's dangerous to do any jutsu with low chakra reserves, I told you that many times."

She glared at him. Was he pulling one of his "I'm your Sensei"-moves? One of these days she would challenge him to a friendly genjutsu battle! She was pretty sure she had the greater skills than him in this department. But men were very sensitive to being upstaged by women, she'd have to wait for the right moment to suggest this.

"Who says it's me? I could be you who is resisting!"

"Me?" he asked astonished.

"Yes, this is a joint Genjutsu, remember? If your head is not in it, it won't work."

"Okay," he nodded. "I see what you mean. I will try harder. It's just... it is weird not to know what is going on in my mind when you're there."

"If we do this right, you'll remember everything else, should it not make it worth it? One more time," she said with authority, though something like guilt stirred inside of her. She knew she should have told him everything yesterday, but it was fast becoming too late.

Another running through the jutsu together and she found herself in the same blackness. Sakura concentrated extra hard on getting a feeling for the world around her and it didn't slip away this time, so maybe it was Kakashi who made the difference. There was a slightly musty, metallic smell. The temperature was best described as not too cold and not too warm, so it seemed plausible that this room was somewhere underground.

"Kakashi?" she asked.

She had felt somebody's presence the second time, but now, the room around her seemed empty. Should she walk forward? Sakura felt fairly confident she would not suddenly fall into a hole, her battle skills may be rusty but her kunoishi senses would never fail her.

After Sakura had taken five steps, the dripping started. A warm, sticky liquid trickling down from above. She recognized it almost instantly by its scent: blood.

"Gross," she gagged, "Kakashi, where are you?"

"Who are you?" somebody asked right next to her, making her jump and squeal. Kunoishi senses? She had not felt him approach at all. He knew how to hide his aura masterfully even though his voice... it was a boy's voice.

"I am Sakura," she said, trying to ignore the blood that was still dripping down. "Are you Kakashi?"

"Are you part of my training?" he asked flatly, "do I need to kill you?"

"No!" Sakura exclaimed horrified, "I came here to find... you?"

She wasn't sure it was him, but the quality of his voice and the lazy cadence of his speech... it was familiar. From the absolute darkness, a faint red glow emerged. Sharingan.

"Can you see me with this?" she asked.

"Your chakra flow," he answered, "I had to check what you are. What do you want?"

Good question. She hesitated ever so briefly before giving him an answer and in that moment, she suddenly felt an increase of highly alert chakra from him.

"Get down," he hissed and pushed her so hard, she fell backwards on her bum gracelessly.

It was like the darkness gave itself substance. One moment, it was the two of them, the next, it was hundreds of assailants whose movements filled their surroundings with an eerie rustling sound, insect-like and menacing.

The boy drew a sword that emitted a white, blinding light and began slashing left and right so fast Sakura was reminded of lightning splitting up the sky. Light... it meant she saw what he was up against. A chill gripped her, freezing her body.

Oni masks.

Always oni masks.

There were so many, the light from the sword was soon reflected by a fast approaching wall of white faces. She saw it was Kakashi fighting them, a young version, but his skill was already extraordinary. For a moment, it looked like he might be able to do the impossible and vanquish the silent enemies coming at him - but the sheer mass made it impossible, he went down with a groan when dozens of them jumped him simultaneously.

He wasn't going to die in front of her, was he?!

Sakura tried to move, but it was like time slowed down completely. Stretching out an arm took five times longer than usual and by the time she had gotten herself to her knees, it was over.

The attackers vanished in puffs of smokes and utter darkness descended again.

"Kakashi?" she asked nervously, "Kakashi?"

"I am here," the boy said. She heard from his voice that he was in a lot of pain, but for the moment, she was just relieved he was still speaking. "What do you want?" he asked her again.

"Take you out of here," Sakura said on impulse because what was it if not that? Gates, seals, Kakashi in mental and physical pain... there had to be a gate again, a way to help him escape this.

"It's forbidden," kid-Kakashi informed her, sounding annoyed. "My training isn't done yet."

"What kind of a training is this supposed to be?" Sakura asked appalled, moving closer to his voice in order to check for wounds. He was just a kid!

"Are you really from the Leaf?" he asked.

"Of course I am!" Sakura bristled.

"Let me feel your headband as proof," he demanded.

She took it off and moved even closer to him, "here," she said, "I'm holding it out."

His fingers came searching for it, briefly touching her hand. They were ice cold. She grasped them, resisting his attempt to pull them away and sent a short burst of chakra into his body to search for damage. Nothing. That could only mean one thing.

"Was it Genjutsu earlier?" she asked him. She moved her hand over her body. There were no traces of blood at all. That must have been part of the Genjutsu too! Genjutsu within Genjutsu? It was the first time she heard of that.

"Yes, of course," the boy said, "else I would be dead. Now could I get my hand back? I don't like to be touched."

"So you are sitting here in the dark for training reasons?" she asked, letting go of his hand and putting her headband back on.

"Is your hearing bad?" he scoffed, "it's what I said."

"What for?!" she exclaimed.

"How did you even get in here?" kid-Kakashi asked suspiciously, "I don't trust you. You're acting strange."

"Is there a door?" she asked him, thinking she needed some light, it was weird to talk to him in the utter darkness. Sakura created a small but bright chakra flame on top of her index finger, looking at the face in front of her. Large eyes, one black, one red. Black face mask covering mouth and nose. Unruly silver hair.

What a cute little boy he was, she thought and smiled at him, resisting an impulse to ruffle his hair and pinch his cheek.

"Snuff out the light, I am supposed to train in absolute darkness," he said gruffly, though eying her with interest. "You have pink hair? That's so weird, I've never seen that before. Is it dyed?"

"No, it's not," she said offended, glaring at him. "Do you have no manners? I'm probably twice as old as you, show a little respect!"

"Oh... do you want me to call you Nee-chan?" he nodded. "I seem to remember older women like that?"

Sakura decided to ignore him. "I asked you whether there is a door," she repeated a bit snippy.

"Sure," he replied, "how else could I have gotten in here."

"Can you show me where it is? Are there seals there?"

"Of course," he replied, "how else would they make sure I can't get out?"

Excitement gripped her. Seals! There were seals! Finally the thing she had come for in the first place. She had to study them!

"Lead me there!" she demanded.

"Why?" he frowned, "it's disadvantageous. If they attack again..."

"I don't care!" she shouted.

Kid-Kakashi shook his head at her, but complied by sheathing his sword - he carried it on his back - and by starting to walk. Somewhat amused to see he put his hands in his pockets just like his older self, she measured his height with her eyes, finding it shorter than hers.

"How old are you?" she asked him. Ten? Or more? She never quite knew with kids.

"Old enough to know that this will have uncomfortable consequences," kid-Kakashi grumbled without looking at her. "I hate it when they change the rules like this."

They had not walked more than fifty steps when there was another attack, just as fast and gruesome as the first - but this time, she was prepared - "Genjutsu Release!" she said and got to watch young Kakashi whirl and slash into empty air.

"Have you not learned how to counter Genjutsu?" she asked him after he had caught his breath, obviously under the impression that he had vanquished the assailants. "Why are you fighting them?"

"Because I'm supposed to," he answered. "Snuff out the light already, I told you I have to train in darkness! Besides, it blinded me earlier, making me lose points."

She shook her head. "But I don't have to do idiotic training and I don't like to walk around without any light."

He pulled a face at her before turning around and sauntering forward.

"I never knew, but you are so much like a certain Uchiha!" she said.

"I'm not at all like any Uchiha!" he bristled angrily.

"Yes, you are, brat," she retorted. The pout. The attitude. The arrogance. And most likely... the loneliness. His father had killed himself, leaving him alone in the world. The hurt of being abandoned. Children who had experienced the worst and were trying to cope by putting their everything into training and becoming stronger. They were very much alike.

"So how do I counter Genjutsu?" kid-Kakashi asked after a bit of silent treatment, walking slower so he could fall in beside her.

"Aha, now you want to know?" she couldn't help but tease him. "Fine. It's easy. Genjutsu is control of someone's chakra. So you must disrupt the chakra flow in your body for a long enough moment. That's it."

He scowled at her and she had to laugh. How could he know that he would once become a teacher who'd spout off Shinobi wisdom like this at little ninjas who had no clue about anything but the very basics.

"That, or you overload your senses to the point where your body snaps itself out of the genjutsu. Pain usually helps," she explained.

"Hurting myself?" he asked, sounding way too intrigued.

"Yes, but the first works much better and against more powerful genjutsu. Oh, and there is another way, probably the most effective. You have to get some foreign chakra source to disrupt yours so that your inner chakra balance is disrupted."

"Foreign chakra source?"

"A team member," she said. "One not caught in the Genjutsu."

"Ah," kid-Kakashi said coldly, "well, I have no team members anymore."

"You will have them again," she said. "That and more. You are capable of much love, Kakashi."

He stopped dead in his tracks, glaring at her like she had just insulted him. "Love? That's bullshit. I want no such thing in my life."

Sakura had to laugh at his angry scowl. "Silly boy. Do you think you can help it?"

"I will not allow it," he said with much conviction. "It's the most dangerous weakness of a Shinobi."

"We are not human without love," Sakura said softly. "The greatest Shinobi are the ones who love the most. One day... one day you will know I was right even though you won't even remember talking to me."

"Ah, now I understand," he said, his expression turning cold. "You are from that cult that has been coming to the orphanage."

"Uhm... what?" Sakura said.

"Preaching love and all that. And then taking children away that never return. I'm not stupid, I know you use them to do those experiments."

"Excuse me?!"

"You're all the same, you old people," he muttered. "You pretend to care but you all you care about is yourselves."

"What cult are you talking about? We have no cults in Konoha."

"The blind will never see," he said sullenly and stopped.

"What? Why are you stopping?" he was irritating, this little one. Kind of how she had always imagined a little brother to be.

"We are here."

She looked up and realized they had reached a wall indeed - with a very large brick gate that was plastered full of seal tags.

"What kind of writing is this?" Sakura exclaimed after failing to decipher the meaning of the symbols.

Kid-Kakashi shrugged.

Sakura stepped even closer to study the tags. There were at least five different symbols and the tags had two colors: blue and red. She counted. Seven red, eight blue. Luckily, she had read a Fuinjutsu book just recently. An imbalance? Was it possible two different people had put them on?

"Can you use your Sharingan to see how the chakra flows on this wall?" she asked Kakashi.

He shrugged again but stepped next to her, concentrating.

"Two patterns," he informed her matter-of-factly, "a red and a blue one. The red flows from left to right and circles down in a spiral. The blue is more like... a snake? Or like smoke. It rises from the bottom to the top and falls down again."

Hm. Sakura bit her lower lip. She was very good at Genjutsu Release, but Fuinjutsu Release? She had only just started to think about it recently and had not gotten very far in her research.

"Just leave it be, Sis," kid-Kakashi said and for the very first time since she had come to this place, he sounded capable of fear. "It is forbidden."

"Can you trust me? I can protect you," she said.

Though as she said it, she vaguely remembered a conversation she had had not too long ago. Hadn't she told Kakashi she would consult with him before opening any seals in his head? She had, but how should she go about that in this situation? She was tired, there was no guarantee she would even find this place again if she went back to the office before taking action. Besides, when she had thought about the seals in his head, she had always assumed she would open doors from the outside not the inside, which was entirely different from freeing Kakashi from his mind prisons.

No... rather than jeopardize today's success she would try to disrupt the chakra network of the seals by sending her own concentrated chakra against its flow. Her skill with micromovements was very good, she was capable of cutting minuscule substances from human bodies.

"Tell me exactly how the chakra flows on the wall. How thick are the threads? Where do they connect to?"

"You do not listen, do you," kid-Kakashi said, "I hate women who are like that."

"Oh just shut up," she barked at him, "you tiny squirt, you know nothing about women. Just do as you're told."

That rendered him quiet. When she wanted to, she could be scary she thought with satisfaction.

It took many tries for her to get even close to hitting one of the chakra flows in the correct way. If she had ever doubted that she could get tired in a Genjutsu of her own making, now she knew: she certainly could. Her fingers began to throb painfully after the thirtieth try and by the time she almost got it, they had gone entirely numb.

It had to be hours later, it was hard to track time in this place, but due to a mixture of luck and sheer tenacity, Sakura managed to simultaneously disrupt the blue and the red seals' flow. With a hiss, the tags dissolved and the door disappeared. A dull light came streaming in. There was a whiff of forest scent.

I did it! I did it! she jubilated, feeling super accomplished. It looked like that other place out there, the "mind entry hall" where all the doors and seals were.

"Come!" she told kid-Kakashi and held out her hand to him.

He looked very spooked.

"Come," she repeated, "there's nothing to be afraid of!"

Well, not that she knew where those mind-Kakashis went after she opened the doors. Did they stop to exist? Merge with Kakashi's subconsciousness completely? But it had to be good to get them out of their scary prisons, no?

"This doesn't look like anything I've ever seen," kid-Kakashi said and stepped forward cautiously to catch a glimpse of what was beyond the wall of his prison. "Oh wait. Is this Genjutsu? Let me..."

A look of deep concentration came over his face as he folded his hands and before she could intervene, a strong burst of chakra almost ripped her off her feet and slapped her so hard, she cried out. An instant later, she was back in the office.

It was 7.07 pm.

She felt a hundred years older. She needed to sleep. Sleep for weeks. What a day.

The adult Kakashi in front of her took a deep breath as awareness returned to his eyes.

"Ouch," he said, "that was rough."

"Oh," Sakura said, feeling a pinch of worry, "what happened?"

"I... well, yesterday, it was like floating on clouds. Just now... it was like... falling from a cliff and dying."

"It's okay," she said and pressed his hands that rested in hers, "I opened some seals."

"You did?" he said and his tone should have been a warning, but she was still bathing in the afterglow of her great success.

"I met a kid-version of you," she told him with a fond smile, "man, you had an attitude."

"Where?" he asked, his frown deepening.

"In an underground training facility?" she mused. "It was entirely dark and you were constantly attacked. Yesterday, I met you in a huge forest. An Anbu-version of yourself."

"Those are... memories, I think," he said. "I don't understand."

"I thought they could be versions of memories, I don't understand either," she admitted, "I am not even sure what my part is in the Genjutsu, I get the feeling it is you who controls them. Some things are strange. For example, in both worlds, people with oni-masks were after you. What does it mean? And you said something about a cult who took away children? And do you have any idea why you would seal these memories off?"

"Me?" he asked astonished.

"Yes! I have reason to believe that you are the one who put seals into your own mind, do you not recall."

"Sakura..."

Something in his face changed.

"What is it?" she asked alarmed.

"We might have made a massive mistake," he ground out.

"Why?" she asked, feeling heat rise to her face, "did I do something wrong?"

"My arm hurts," he pressed out. "A lot."

Kakashi pulled his hands from hers and gripped his left arm with such force, his knuckles stood out ghostly white.

"He warned me," Kakashi murmured.

"Whom are you talking about?" Sakura asked alarmed, watching in frozen horror how his face turned an ashen color. Alarms went off in her medical-nin head.

"Kabuto."

"Kabuto?! Kakashi, what is going on?"

"He said... to take the pills..."

"Take off your shirt," Sakura urged him, trying to process what she was hearing, "let me look."

She gasped when he had bared his torso and she saw what had happened to the tattoo on his left arm.

"Shit," she murmured. "Shit."

Once a small red flame, it now was the size of half his arm. And it continued growing as she stared at it, sending red, hungry tendrils towards his heart.

When she touched it, the first thing she realized was how hot Kakashi's skin was. Quickly moving a hand to his forehead, she confirmed that he was running a very high fever. Kakashi had his eyes closed, swaying ever so lightly. It looked like he was about to pass out.

"Dammit," Sakura cursed. "Kakashi, can you stand? You must lie down. Come, over there!"

She dragged his heavy body over to the treatment couch where he collapsed and lay utterly still, breathing shallowly. This wasn't happening, was it, she thought as she was taking his pulse. His body was beginning to fail. She felt like she had no grasp of what reality was anymore, as if her exhausted mind was mixing dream elements into her waking hours or was it the other way round.

"What is this thing," she yelled, "Kakashi, can you talk?"

"I... am.... sorry," was all he said.

"I will remove whatever substance it is," she informed him, "I don't care how valuable it is or who put it there, alright?"

No answer. His breathing became more irregular. Not good.

"Kakashi!" she yelled at him, "hang on!"

She readied her chakra in her fingers, finding her reserves low, so very low. What if... but no, she could not think of failure or about whether this was her fault, all her fault. She couldn't let herself be distracted, not now. She needed to concentrate. Hard. Find the substance in his bloodstream. Find the source of his quickly worsening state. The tattoo, a seal... a broken seal, leaking poison into his body. No, not poison... or was it? It was a substance... it was... blood! Blood, but not his blood, thus acting just like a poison.

Feeling disgust, she began to draw it out, tendril after tendril, but her fingers weren't fast enough so she began using her mouth too to suck it out of him, spitting it on the floor, so dangerous because if it were poison, she would die right with him, which... she deserved.

This was her fault.

"You shouldn't have trusted me," she sobbed, completely exhausted after the crisis was averted and his breathing had stabilized. "I am useless. No, worse! I kill people. Today, I killed seventeen of your comrades and now I almost killed you. I give up. I don't want to live in a world where there's only pain."

No clue. She had no clue what she was doing, worse, she had jeopardized his life by meddling with Genjutsu she did not understand. Fat tears fell down on the chiseled muscles of his upper body, leaving glistening trails in the artificial light. Things became very blurry all of a sudden.

I've completely exhausted myself, Sakura realized, this is not good. I might pass out. If I have not managed to stop it, he will die.

"Sakura," he whispered, his eyes fluttering open. "Sakura, how will I ever repay you for saving my life again and again?"

"Stay as far away from me as possible," she pressed out, her eyes filling with tears again.

"Is... is this truly what you wish for?" he whispered, obviously finding it hard to keep his eyes open. "If so, I will... I will comply even though..."

He gripped her hand with surprising force, interlacing his fingers with hers.

"Just now, I believed I was going to die. There was one thing I kept thinking, one thing..." he faltered.

"Maybe you shouldn't speak just now," she said, but she bent forward, she inhaled deeply, his scent, feeling so incredibly dizzy, stabilized only by his warm hand.

"You are right, I should not say it," he said even more quietly, "I have no right."

For balance she put her free hand next to his head. His hair was there at her fingertips and she touched it compulsively, finding it much softer than she had imagined it. Running her fingers through it was very pleasant, like touching that silk coat her mother had worn when she had been a child.

"Stop. Unless you have lots and lots of water at hand," he whispered.

"Not a single drop," Sakura replied, clumsily climbing onto the treatment couch, "just... hold me. Please."

Kakashi turned to his side wordlessly, offering his right arm as a pillow. She snuggled up against him, so warm and comforting, feeling more tears pressing against her eyes but much too tired to care. He put his other arm around her and cradled her against his chest.

"Thank you," she said, "I just need to... rest...," she was already falling asleep or unconscious but for a passing moment, she worried about the unlocked door and the people that might find them here, the lights that were still on, falling off the small couch, the shower she hadn't taken, fresh underwear she didn't have, the time, the place, everything...

"I'm here," he said by her ear, "I've got you."

With a sigh, she let go and like a candle being snuffed out, her senses left her completely.

 

Chapter Text

Sakura's temperature was dropping. Shudders shook her body in shorter and shorter intervals and the bare skin of her lower arms was ice cold to the touch. Kakashi knew the signs: severe chakra depletion.

He tried to wrap himself around her more thoroughly, willing his body heat to flow into her since there was no blanket in reach. But whom was he trying to fool... When he had still had the Sharingan, he had been able to copy every jutsu used in his line of sight, which included medical ninjutsu - but even though he could mimic the hand signs perfectly, the effects it had were laughable. The copy ninja had many talents but healing was decidedly not one of them.

Kakashi was precariously close to falling off the narrow treatment couch, but he wanted Sakura to be as comfortable as possible as he did what she had asked him to do: Hold her. That she had jeopardized her safety for him once more... it touched him. No... actually, it made him feel damn guilty. She had lived a safe life as long as he had not been in it. As soon as he had made an appearance, she had been almost raped and killed and had to worry about things not her responsibility daily. For someone as big-hearted and selfless as her to think she was useless because of him, to say she would give up and didn't want to live anymore...

Feeling despair, Kakashi buried his face in her hair. Stay as far away from me as possible, she had said. Yes, it was the only right thing to do. But the mere thought... it hurt in ways it shouldn't. He had been careful for most of his adult life not to forge emotional bonds that would jeopardize his performance as a Shinobi. Sure, he had greatly cared for his Team 7 kids as their Sensei. He would have given his life for them without a second thought if necessary. It was an honor code he lived by, it was part of his duty. But this? This was different.

A discomforting certainty was growing in him that given the wrong circumstances, he would choose to do things for Sakura that had nothing to do with duty, things that might well jeopardize the village. How had he gotten himself in such a situation? Had he ignored the warning signs?

He tightened his arms around her, hoping her shivers would stop soon. It always got worse before it got better, he was no stranger to chakra depletion himself. Using the Sharingan had thrown him into bed regularly, often for long periods of time. Nothing a bit of rest wouldn't fix, but it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience.

And then he needed to focus on something else to distract himself from thinking about the shuddering body that was pressed against his. He had tried to tell himself holding her like this was entirely innocent, like a father holding a child, but her body was no child's. It was soft and fragrant like only women's bodies were and he could try to father or Sensei-zone himself all he wanted, it did not have the desired effect.

Another trick that had backfired miserably earlier was Kakashi trying to pretend this was just a scene from one of the Icha Icha books, where the young woman was traumatized by the advances of an older man whom she considered a gross old fart. But that didn't add up either. This type of skinship would never happen to anyone but the destined couple in any Icha Icha book.

Now, he was forcing his mind to recall what she had told him about her experience in the Genjutsu. Solving riddles was an excellent way to distract yourself and this riddle was a tough one. Just like before, he felt like he was looking at the pieces of a puzzle without knowing how large the jigsaw was going to be, hence with not even a clue about how many pieces were missing.

Sakura had suggested he might have been the one to put seals in his own mind.

He indeed knew of a Fuinjutsu method that would do that: the Mind-Sealing Technique. It was used in order to suppress memories that could get in the way of difficult missions, like for example a Shinobi sent to kill somebody very close to him. It was a Forbidden Jutsu because the risks associated with it for the wielder were very high, ranging from temporary confusion to raging insanity with frequent use. That he would resort to such a technique was not impossible, but in which scenario would he seal off his own memories and then forgot about it?

Unfortunately - no, fortunately, he corrected himself - the one who had taught him the technique was dead. Kakashi doubted anybody else but Danzo Shimura knew enough about the jutsu to be able to shed light on the workings of it, but maybe it was worth tracking down others who had been in the Foundation aka Root? It probably was no coincidence Sakura had met his younger self during the training designed to break you over and over, to kill all that was human inside of you...

Carefully, Kakashi fished for the memories of that time. Had he not been able to access them before? He remembered now, though only through a haze. His younger self had lacked the words to call the physical and emotional abuse by a name, which made the memories strangely insubstantial. He had been numb back then, a child who wanted to plunge himself into a black hole and take the whole world with him. Root was entirely devoid of warmth, but for the emotionally broken, its attempts to erase your very existence to turn you into a tool for destruction was meaningful in a warped kind of way. He thought it might be the reason he had survived despite his wish to be done with living.

The next clue were the oni-masks Sakura had claimed were in both the memories she had accessed. Was it a coincidence the attackers from the other week had also worn oni-masks? Probably not. A cult that took away children though? He knew of no cult. But shouldn't he, now that she had unlocked those memories if those really were memories? He had left the orphanage the very day Danzo had approached him at the cemetery without a word of thanks or goodbye. It wasn't like they had ever maltreated him there. Had there not been a woman...

Hm. The haze in his brain increased to a white wall.

"Maybe this will be the next memory for you to unlock," he whispered into Sakura's ear. "I think she was kind. I would like to remember her. Is she still alive?"

Kakashi sighed deeply. What was keeping him from going to the orphanage to see for himself? The knowledge that Kabuto had been running the institution for a while? Maybe he should give the guy a chance, since everybody else seemed to be able to.

"I should ask you to accompany me," Kakashi whispered into Sakura's ear again, "I'd like that. You have a way with people. Unless your temper explodes... but even then..."

His heart suddenly missed a beat. It took him a moment to realize why: She was too still. No more shivers for quite some time. But ice, ice cold.

"Sakura," he said and shook her. "Sakura?"

There was a pulse, his fumbling fingers found, but it was very weak. He was so clueless, he hadn't even realized how bad she was! Luckily, they were already at a hospital, should he rush outside and yell for someone to help? But would there be any capable doctors around at this time? Somebody else who was very capable would still be working for sure, it came with the job. Making a quick decision, Kakashi rushed over to the window, opened it, then grabbed Sakura and jumped.

***

It took him only about ten minutes to reach the Hokage Tower over the rooftops even though he found himself unusually short of breath tonight, with a left arm that hurt with a dull, blunt pain. Conveniently, the Anbu guards on the roof recognized him immediately and let him fly by without an attempt to stop him.

"Who dares to...!" Tsunade shouted as he burst into her office without knocking, but she sprang up looking concerned when she saw whom he was carrying in his arms.

"It's chakra depletion," Kakashi informed the Hokage and put Sakura down on the desk as carefully as he could. "I think it's critical."

"I'm on it," Tsunade said and pushed him aside roughly.

Feeling thoroughly chakra-depleted himself, Kakashi sat down on the floor and put his hurting head against the wall. Worry gripped him, but Lady Tsunade clearly knew what she was doing, sending her green healing chakra into Sakura's belly region with a look of concentration on her face.

"She'll be alright," she sighed after a while and Kakashi sprang up. There was color in Sakura's face again, he noticed with relief and he barely resisted the impulse to step over and cradle her to his chest.

"Where is your shirt?" Tsunade frowned, looking him up and down.

"I... took it off," he said, blushing. "I was too hot."

"Oh, don't even bother with your horrible excuses," she snapped, "put something on, this much masculinity threatens me."

The shirt was at the hospital. Like his book. And his sanity.

"Could you help me out?" he asked his Hokage with a sheepish grin. Wordlessly, Tsunade stepped over to the large cupboard along the wall and began rummaging around inside.

"Here," she said a few moments later, holding out a black shirt.

"This is a woman's top," Kakashi observed.

"Yes, maybe you haven't noticed, but I am a woman."

Kakashi sighed. Fine, now was not the time to make a fuss. He shrugged into the sleeveless garment. It was tight in all the wrong places and had room for breasts as large as Tsunade's, so he probably looked like his namesake in it.

"Care to explain why Sakura depleted almost all her chakra with you around?" Tsunade asked, narrowing her eyes at him.

"I think she already depleted it with you treating patients, she didn't need me for it," he replied grumpily, trying to find out which string had to go with which other string to tie the damn thing together.

"Ah," Tsunade let her head hang. "Today was no good day. I thought we had gotten rid of those fuckers when you pulled your stunt the other night. Now it seems it only spurred them on."

"Can I go see the survivors and ask them about what happened?"

"No, you can't. You are not on active duty, Hatake Kakashi!"

"You are a fool if you keep me grounded, Lady Tsunade."

"Am I?" she shot back and her tone made him look up. There was a vulnerability in her eyes he had never seen there before and it made him wonder about when and how he had hurt her. But maybe...

"What is it I did that made you lose trust in me?" he asked cautiously.

Tsunade sighed. "You going behind my back. I cannot help but think it wasn't the first time. You went on so many missions over the years, you were often unaccounted for for days. I know all about Danzo's plans and I know you were once part of his organization."

"What?" Kakashi exclaimed in disbelief. "Do you not also know he tried to have me killed for leaving it? And do you not know this organization was disbanded years ago?"

Tsunade pointed at his naked arm and asked: "Has it really?"

"Good that you mention it," Kakashi said with a glance at his left upper arm, which only showed the plain, thin Anbu flame tattoo, "I seemed to recollect that other thing was also an Anbu tattoo, but now I'm not so sure anymore. You know it almost killed me tonight? It grew this big!" he indicated the size with his other hand dramatically. "And it continued to grow!"

"What? Show me," Tsunade said, waving him closer to the desk.

Her fingers were deft but not half as gentle as Sakura's. It was also possible Tsunade took pleasure in hurting him a little.

"Ouch," Kakashi complained when a chakra infused prod hurt his very bone.

"Stop whining," Tsunade grumbled. "Did Sakura make these incisions? They look far more clumsy than her usual work, but I guess she was already running very low on chakra..."

"She saved my life," Kakashi said, feeling another wave of gratefulness for the pink-haired woman lying on the desk behind him.

Tsunade sighed again. "Did you use to be this much trouble before or is it getting worse as you age? This used to be a blood seal. And you claim you know nothing about it?"

He knew nothing about it. A blood seal? He wasn't even sure what that was.

Tsunade pointed at the seal on her forehead. "Like this but it contains concentrated blood."

"What kind of blood?" Kakashi pressed out. Blood was worrying. It was a powerful substance if used the right - or the wrong - way.

"I don't know, it's all gone. Maybe Sakura knows? Why don't you ask her after she wakes up. What is clear is that If it was hurting you, it's not your blood but somebody else's. But you know what? I can't believe my top Shinobi is standing in my office with this look on his face. Did you not notice that this tattoo was a little different than the tattoos of the others?"

"Of course I did!" Kakashi bristled. "But I distinctly remember..."

What exactly did he remember about it? Frowning, he looked at his arm again. Actually...

"Shit," he said. "Lady Tsunade, is it possible somebody messed with my memories because of this?"

"And you expect me to trust you!" she exclaimed and shot him an evil look as she walked around the desk to her chair. "Yes, it's possible. I don't look at you sleeveless all that often, but maybe I should have? I don't remember when you first got it. Anyway, now it's gone. Since you are still breathing and walking around, I'm thinking it wasn't life-critical or anything."

"Is Konoha doing experiments on human subjects?" Kakashi asked, suppressing a shudder.

"Only on volunteers like you. We are running a soldier enhancement program, didn't I tell you? Those pills you took? With them, you need to sleep less, are overall stronger and more enduring, heal faster, etc. etc."

"And Kabuto is in charge of it."

"Exactly."

"Do you know anything about a cult that took children away? From the orphanage I believe? Maybe thirty years ago."

"You are asking the strangest questions, Kakashi," Tsunade said and fell back into her chair. "A cult? Cult of what? I have never heard of such a thing. When Minato was Hokage? Or after he died?"

"I don't know," Kakashi admitted. He looked at Sakura again, feeling his heart swell. She definitely looked much better. Lovely in fact.

"Okay," Tsunade said slowly, "You haven't answered me yet. Why were you with Sakura? You keep looking at her a lot."

"She has offered to help me with my problem." Kakashi tore his eyes away from Sakura with an effort.

"Which one?"

Very funny. "The not remembering."

"And how is she doing that?"

"She found a time lapse Genjutsu in some book, a joint Genjutsu she called it, where two people agree to enter the illusion together. She wanted to study the seals in my head with enough leisure."

Tsunade let our some air through her teeth. "You obviously trust her a lot to give her control over your mind like that."

"Of course I trust her. We were comrades for many years."

"Ha," Tsunade said and then looked at him strangely.

"Are you insinuating something?" Kakashi asked, not sure whether he should feel outraged or quietly shrink away.

"Maybe I am," Tsunade said, still looking at him quite intensively. "But let me tell you something you might not know. There are quite a lot of people pressuring me about the Uchiha bloodline, including the council and the Fire Daimyō."

He did not want to hear such things. It wasn't like he was unaware of having entered forbidden territory, nobody needed to rub his nose in it.

"Glare all you want, you idiot," Tsunade snapped. "Sasuke is the last of the Uchihas. We need their kekkei genkai to endure the generations! You also know that there are several shady organizations after it and while we cannot allow anybody else to get their hands on it, we also have to make sure we keep it! Sasuke has been donating a lot of his blood and cells, but we have not managed to make any headway in how to unlock that bloodline secret."

"Are you saying..."

"Yes, it's what I'm saying. I will not tie her down and force her to have a child, she is like a daughter to me. But I will also let her know that if she isn't willing, we will have to find another way soon. Don't look at me like that. I'm not thinking of growing babies in glasses, but I will try and find willing mothers to carry the children if I have to."

"You can't do that to Sakura. She is so young! She has so much of her life still to live!"

Tsunade was getting angry, Kakashi knew the signs, the arteries on her neck standing out, the reddish hue intensifying on her face, but he didn't care much at the moment. He was equally outraged and horrified. Wasn't it like putting a kunai knife at Sakura's throat? Having children should be a free decision, not one forced upon you by the duty to a blood line!

But he knew such sentiments to be sentimental. Fighting for a prosperous, happy Konoha so that such a dream could become reality - was it not the sole purpose of his own life? Was he not still putting it on the line so that they could finally leave all the destruction and sadness behind? That he had to continue doing it meant one thing: the illusion still was only that, an illusion. As long as it did not become a reality, bloodlines mattered, power mattered, the number of Shinobis a village had mattered...

"You are a fool," Tsunade said, but not with the anger he would expect from her. "You know the degree of her obsession with this Uchiha, don't you?"

"Of course I do," he said truthfully. "Don't think me stupid, Godaime Hokage. It's just... I want her to be happy."

"Pffffft," Tsunade snorted. "I did not know you were a romantic. I thought you are happy with your porn books and..."

"Porn books?! They are not porn! If you had ever read one..."

"Pah!" she interrupted him, "never would I read the perverted fantasies of someone who was trying to get into my trousers all his life! You know how disturbing it is to me that he thought of me while writing this smut! And you reading them with such ardor...," she shuddered.

"The Icha Icha books are not perverted," Kakashi said with vehemence, "in fact, if you had ever read one you'd know that Master Jiraiya seriously loved you."

"Oh please," Tsunade pulled a disgusted face, "he loved everyone he wanted to put his... his thing into, for as long as he did not score. As soon as he did, the love moved on to the next target."

Now she had managed to make him angry and that wasn't easy. Insulting the Icha Icha books and Master Jiraiya was an underhanded, backstabbing move not worthy of a Hokage.

"A Hokage should not condemn people or things wantonly," Kakashi lectured her, remembering his own Sensei's voice as he said it.

"Oh get lost," Tsunade snapped at him, "why do you always irritate me so much! Don't you dare judge me before you haven't sat on this very seat yourself."

Tsunade patted the armrests of the Hokage chair.

"I have told you before, I am not interested and I wish you'd finally accept it."

"You know what, Hatake Kakashi?" Tsunade said and folded her hands in a deliberate, menacing fashion. "I am going to bet on you sitting in this chair before the next cherry blossom festival. The wager will be...," she seemed to be thinking hard, "a favor."

"Deal," Kakashi said because Tsunade never won her bets. He was entirely safe.

"Deal," Tsunade echoed, "and now get out of here. Take Sakura down to Sasuke. Tell him to tie her to the bed if she thinks she has to get up tomorrow for work - she needs to rest, you know the drill."

The conversation was apparently over, Tsunade began busying herself with paperwork and pointedly ignored him. And she thought he was irritating? She was ten times more irritating. Gently, Kakashi picked Sakura up from the desk, making sure her head rested comfortable on his arm. Once outside, he slammed the door to Tsunade's office shut with his foot as hard as possible, gaining satisfaction from the small yelp she made.

***

The guest apartment was one floor down, easily reachable by a set of stairs. The light was dimmed in the corridors this late at night and given there was no immediate threat to the village, there were no guards inside the building.

Since knocking with your hands was difficult while carrying somebody, Kakashi used his boot to tap against the door. That did not yield an answer, but the door to the apartment was unlocked when he checked, so he entered. It was dark inside but Kakashi located a light switch and hit it with his elbow.

"Sasuke?" he asked. No answer. Where would he be this late at night? It all looked deserted and super tidy.

Taking off his shoes with Sakura in his arms was impossible so he walked right in, carrying her to where he knew the bedroom was. With a small shudder, he remembered what had happened after the last time he had done the same thing. But this place was the safest in Konoha, it was almost impossible to slip past the Anbu outside.

Which side of the bed would be hers? He saw no trace of a pijama anywhere. Since his favorite was always the left side, he decided to put her there as well. Very carefully, he set her down, arranging her head on the pillow. Next, Kakashi sat down on the foot of the bed and took off her shoes, arranging them neatly next to the bed. No rabbit slippers around. Well, those had been thoroughly ruined so what did he expect? At second thought, he took his boots off as well. Then he just sat there and looked at her in the dim light.

Her face looked peaceful. Some hair had gotten loose though and might be tickling her. Carefully, he moved it out of her face and behind her ear. And then, because he had no self-control whatsoever, he touched her cheek with his fingertips, finding her skin as smooth as silk.

This... wasn't okay, however pleasant the feel of it was, it was what a creepy old man would do to sleeping beauties. But just when Kakashi wanted to pull back his hand, Sakura grabbed it and snuggled against it.

"Hmmmmhmhmhmh," she said contently.

His heart beating faster, Kakashi pulled against her hold a little stronger, but she held on to it firmly, even halfway turning her body to use it as a pillow. Her cheek was warm and her soft breath hit the sensitive skin on his wrist like a gentle caress. Alright... what now? He didn't mind lending her parts of his body as a pillow.

"Glkdjoooogps," she murmured and "Orpollllopok" followed by a string of other utterances.

Kakashi bent a little closer to understand what she was saying. Was it gibberish? He smiled fondly at her sleepy silliness... and then yelped as her hands suddenly shot up and grabbed the front of his strange top with much force, pulling him forward and down.

"Sakura...," he stammered, finding his face mere inches from hers, "are you dreaming?"

"You think this is easy?" she muttered dangerously, "you are an idiot. I tell you how it's done properly and you obey!"

"W... wake up," he said, feeling horribly flustered, using his hands to push against the force of her grip, which only made her redouble her efforts. Chakra-depletion or not, she was incredibly strong. "Sakura?"

She puckered her lips.

"No," he said firmly, "no kissing. No kissing, Sakura, it's... not... I'm... not..."

But she was oblivious. He should have used a blast of chakra to push against the bed and propel himself backwards of course, but for a variety of reasons, he hesitated. Using his confusion skillfully, she grabbed both his ears and pulled even stronger, taking him so much by surprise he slackened his arms and fell forward.

Their lips connected rather painfully and he pulled back horrified at what had just happened, staring down at her close-eyed face, yet telling himself that it was not kissing if it wasn't intentional and in addition, the fabric of his face mask was in between and... but she did not afford him time to finish finding excuses. With another swift movement, almost as if she had practiced this move for a long time, she pulled down his mask, interlinked her hands behind his neck and pulled his mouth down to hers.

Soft, wet, enrapturing... her lips tasted of sweet cherries, making him dissolve into a puddle of goo so instantaneously, he couldn't have resisted her even if he had wanted to. She nibbled at his lower lip like a hungry little bird and made a soft sound in her throat that hit him right in the chest. Her hands dug into his hair, pulling him even closer just as her small tongue began slipping in and out of her mouth to tease his lips apart and find its counterpart.

He was no stranger to kissing, but it had never quite got him in the same way as this.

This was utterly wrong and incredibly thrilling. Had Kakashi been capable of forming a sufficiently coherent thought, he would have realized that because he knew it to be so wrong, because he knew they could be discovered any minute, he found it the most exciting thing he had ever experienced. Stop! Don't stop! jumbled thoughts flitted across his mind, what the heck am I doing? Don't ask, just continue, continue, I want more.

Tremors began snaking along his sensitive nerves when their tongues touched, gentle at first before urgency took over. Chakra was balling itself together in the pit of his stomach as he grabbed her head for some control, finding it impossible to establish any. His breathing quickened, his heartbeat increased, soon drumming a maddening rhythm in his ears. The wave of lust that swept over him hit him so forcefully he growled. And Sakura answered him with a guttural moan that spoke of a need mirroring his own.

It was then he pulled back and looked at her face, mainly because he wanted to see the expression of desire on it, and had to realized with a feeling like a gauntlet fist to the stomach that her eyes were still closed.

She wasn't conscious. She did not know what she was doing.

The realization that he was taking advantage of an unconscious woman sobered him quickly - but it took such an effort to control the raging fire that had started to burn inside of him, such an effort to sit up, to bring the proper distance between their bodies, to suppress the yearning, to stop paying attention to her body and its chakra, to the scent she omitted, the scent of female arousal teasing his sensitive nose, calling to him louder than any words ever could.

Groaning, he put his mask back where it belonged, buried his head in his hands and began tearing at his own hair in frustration. He felt a strong urge to run away but that had never solved any problems.

"Kakashi?" Sakura asked, "what are you doing there?"

He whipped around and found her with her eyes open, scrambling to sit up, then looking around herself in confusion.

"Where are we? Do we live here?"

"Yes," he answered gruffly, slowly edging further away from her. He wasn't quite sure he could trust himself.

"Then why are you not lying down with me?"

"W... what do you...," all the blood left his head in a rush and the room began to spin.

She cocked her head at him teasingly and smiled.

"Have I ever told you how much I like your hair and how it sticks up even more wildly when you're flustered? It's very cute."

For a brief moment, Kakashi felt certain he had been plunged into a crazy Genjutsu as punishment for allowing himself to touch her. Of all things, he was most afraid of Genjutsu traps because however strong a Shinobi, the sneakier ones got you so thoroughly you were doomed before you even knew it. When Genjutsu release did not change even the slightest thing about the situation, it dawned on him that he was mistaken. Where are we? she had asked. Do we live here?

We. Him and her.

"Sakura," he told her, finding his voice shaky and hoarse, "Sakura, this is not a Genjutsu. This is reality. This is your and Sasuke's apartment in the Hokage tower. You passed out because of chakra depletion a few hours ago. Tsunade saved you and I brought you here. You need lots of rest. I know how it feels... and it's common to be very confused after waking up."

"Oh," she said. And then, remembering what she had just said to him, she blushed violently and put her hands over her mouth.

"Don't worry," he said, trying to sound unaffected. "This stays between us."

She seemed to want to die from embarrassment. Kakashi stared at her red, horrified face with the huge, shocked eyes, thinking she was the cutest thing he had ever seen.

"Seriously, don't worry," he said again.

"We...," she whispered with a shaking voice. "We...," she licked her lips, which plunged him into the next phase of this crisis, "did we... we...."

Dammit, he could not keep quiet about this or lie to her. If you did something wrong, you better owned up to it.

"Yes, we kissed," he said lightly. "Forget about that too, you were out of it and I should never have allowed it to happen."

"Oh god, I initiated it again, didn't I.... I am... I am so sorry!"

I'm not, he thought, trying to find the strength to smile at her reassuringly. Had she said 'again'?

"Was it... pleasant at least?" she blurted out and then hid her face behind her hands, obviously horrified about her own forthrightness.

"I don't really want to talk about it," Kakashi said, which was the truth, because thinking about it did make him want to do more of it.

"How will I ever be able to look at you again," he heard her whisper. But this was going in the wrong direction. As so many times before, she was too ready to blame herself one sidedly.

"Hey... if it eases your embarrassment... yes. It was pleasant. It was ... very pleasant in fact."

Oh great, now was not the time for speaking such truths, but he had never quite learned how to lie. Her wide-eyed, astonished stare made him blush in turn. Fervently, he wished he could just leave already and take an ice cold shower. Or two. Or jump into an ice lake.

Her scent hit his nose again, the scent of a female body alert and ready to be pleasured. His own body reacted eagerly. No shower and no ice lake was going to fix this.

"I must leave," he said. It sounded as desperate as he felt.

"Must you?" she asked.

"Sakura..."

"This is not my apartment. You brought me to the wrong one."

Taken aback, Kakashi turned his head around. Idiot! He had thought it strangely empty!

"Ours is one floor down," Sakura added slowly.

There was a calculating look in her eyes he half wished he had not seen because it made him edge closer instead of walking out, made it very hard to convince himself that there could be no next step, not now, not ever.

Had he not warned her? He had known that he had neither the ability nor the will to control the spark between them. But now the fire had started and it was already burning as high as the Hokage Tower. Between them, it was going to be big enough to burn Konoha to the ground.

 

Chapter Text

“Do you want this?”

Kakashi’s breathless whisper went straight to Sakura’s belly, fluttering around in it like an army of butterflies.

Did she?

The answer was yes, yes, yes, her body was ready, there was so much want! But could she pretend she wasn’t afraid giving in to that would change everything about her life in ways she did not want? She knew herself well, too well maybe. Despite her massive temper that flared up with no warning and managed to even scare herself sometimes, she was a most level headed person, one who thought about all aspects of an issue for hours and planned every step meticulously before she acted. She had no experience with risky, impulsive actions because she had never taken any.

“I do,” she said, her voice shaking, “but…”

It was pretty dark in the bedroom, but a light had to be on outside somewhere, sending a faint glimmer their way. And yet, it was like she could see his face and the silver of his hair better than she should, almost as if her eyes had developed a sudden ability to augment what they wanted to see even in the dark. The troubled expression in Kakashi’s eyes did not help with her own confusion, but it made her heart swell in a rush of tenderness, having her reach out her hand to cup his cheek.

“Do you want this?” she echoed him, following the arc of his brow with her thumb. He put his own hand over hers and briefly closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.

“Yes,” he exhaled, “yes, I want it a lot - but what I really want is for you to be happy and I fear…”

“...it could make me happy now, but very unhappy tomorrow,” she knew how to finish his sentence, her heart in her throat.

A lot. He wanted it a lot, he had said.

“...that applies to the both of us,” he added.

This was it then, wasn’t it? They both could not and did not want to forget who they were, they both could not simply act on their needs as if nobody else was going to be affected by it. But Sakura felt a tingling sensation where Kakashi’s hand rested on top of hers, it was clearly chakra, and by the rippling and twitching feel of it, it was his lightning chakra nature, a telltale sign of how affected he was - she knew him to be a master of hiding his chakra signature in the field.

That she would have such an effect on him

They were sitting fairly close already, but she could go even closer and that’s what she did, putting her arms around his neck and pressing her cheek against his.

“Thank you,” she whispered into his ear, “thank you.”

He smells so, so good, she thought, pressing her nose against his ear, good and strangely familiar, as if she had noticed his scent longer ago than she had consciously realized. It did suddenly make her curious to what he tasted like. She had woken up to a body humming and the aftertaste of somebody’s lips on her own, but she had no recollection of kissing other than kissing in an illusion and that seemed… a waste.

Let me at least kiss him goodbye, she thought. And then we’ll part ways and… we will be responsible adults, later feeling a little sorry that we are, but overall feeling we made the right choice.

She moved her lips to his cheek, to where his mask divided his face into a visible and an invisible part, gripping it with her teeth and at the same time hooking her fingers into the fabric on the other side. It was far more daring than anything she had ever done to a man and she actually expected him to get angry and to stop her, but no such thing happened. Instead, Kakashi moved his hands to her hair and gripped it, briefly rubbing his nose against her cheek.

Sakura pulled the mask down.

Suddenly feeling strangely shy, she pressed her eyes shut, moving her lips over the newly exposed parts, down to his lips. He parted them a little, letting her explore them with her own. She listened to his quickened breathing, marvelling at how she did seem to remember the same taste of him from the Genjutsu, remembering that just like now, he had let her do whatever she had wanted to do, exhibiting an expectant passivity.

She took it as a clear signal that Kakashi would not take this any further without her explicit permission. She was in charge. He would do whatever she wanted him to do.

That realization was extremely empowering and excited her a great deal more than she would have thought possible. Sakura put her tongue into his mouth, licking across his teeth, finding it extremely hard not to moan. Her hands were moving over his shoulder down his naked arms, kneading their shapely form, feeling the hard muscles, his lean strength. Kakashi was wearing the strangest, ill-fitting of garments, crossed over the chest like a woman’s top, but it afforded her hands easy access to the skin underneath it once they sought it.

Their tongues were caressing each other sensually, a leisurely teasing that was awakening every part of her body. Her core was on fire, tingling with the frustration of weeks, no months of too little attention. Moving her hands to his back to feel more of his battle-honed body, then forward to his chest, she wished to be touched the same way by him so very much. But this was only a farewell kiss, she could not ask for it. Or could she? Maybe there were no rules. It came down to do you want this? It was all her choice.

Reluctantly, she broke the kiss.

“Do you want to touch me?” she asked timidly, still keeping her eyes firmly closed, as if she was afraid that seeing his face would mean passing a mysterious point of no return.

“What do you think,” he said with a breathless chuckle, moving his lips to her neck and his hands to her tummy. As he kissed and nibbled the skin underneath her ear, he flexed his long fingers to grip her waist and then moved them up over her ribs slowly. He always took his time, she knew that, but she was ready to speed things up, ready to grip his hands and move them where she truly wanted them: her breasts.

But before she could take enough heart, they got there, sending a fiery sensation through her body as they cupped her orbs through the fabric of her clothes, rubbing and gently twisting her nipples. That did it. Sakura could no longer hold back her moan, it spilled out of her like a tidal wave. Impatiently, her hands pushed his aside to fumble for the buttons of her clothes, but his fingers were defter, finding their way onto her skin with ease.

The tingling from his lightning chakra made all her nerves hum where he touched her. Her belly, her back. Her shoulders, her arms, at which point he helped her shed her top completely. She soon realized he was doing it again, deliberately not touching her breasts but everywhere else, as if he took pleasure torturing her with his slowness.

“I want to see you,” he breathed, “all of you. I want to switch on the lights.”

“No,” she squealed, her old self-consciousness flaring up. There were so many parts of her that were ugly, she did not want him to see them and lose his positive opinion of her.

“Are you saying ‘no’ because you feel you’re ugly?” he guessed correctly, “Sakura, don’t you know you’re the most beautiful woman in Konoha? I can see that even when you’re fully dressed.”

The most beautiful… flabbergasted, she opened her eyes wide, seeing only silver hair in her field of vision because his face was against her neck, his mouth moving to her collarbone.

“It’s… because… I… I haven’t showered for so long,” she pressed out, a half-baked excuse, though true in essence.

“Mhmmm,” Kakashi purred, “let’s take a shower together, I could use one myself.”

She wanted to squeal again, mostly from excitement, but he had already grabbed her around the waist with both his hands and stood up swiftly, lifting her up like she weighed nothing. She put her legs around his middle and her arms around his neck, pressing her heated core against his abdomen. There was a small bathroom with a shower accessible from the bedroom, which Kakashi seemed to know, since he headed towards it with determined strides.

The light from outside the bedroom did not extend into the far corners and they were soon engulfed by unpierceable, welcome darkness that helped Sakura push aside her insecurities. As soon as Kakashi had opened the door with an elbow and they were inside, she grabbed his ears with both her hands and tilted his head back to once again have access to his mouth. He kissed her back with mounting fervor, robbing her of breath and reason. Eventually, Sakura slackened her legs to slide down his body, realizing too late this changed the angle of the kiss and put her at a disadvantage, because now he was towering above her with all the leverage. Was he really this much taller than her or was it that her legs were so jelly she could not stand up straighter?

She opened the button of her trousers and wiggled her body so that they fell to the floor, stepping out of them and kicking them somewhere to the side. His hands started playing with the elastic band of her underpants, teasing the skin under the rim of the fabric. It almost-but-not-quite tickled, but mainly managed to make her even wetter than she already was. Gaaaah! It was crystal clear to the naturally competitive Sakura that she was far too artless, impatient and frankly bad at this kind of thing. She had a lot of learning to do.

She fumbled for his top, her fingers at loss at how to take it off.

“This thing defies logic,” Kakashi said, moving his hands away from her to take charge. The ugly sound of ripping fabric made her yelp, but his method sure was efficient. Her hands found his torso naked, his skin smooth and pleasant to the touch - so quite naturally, though not quite knowing what came over her, she bent forward to lick it. He shuddered and made a sound in his throat that she found extremely sexy. On a mission to hear him make it again, she moved her tongue upwards to his nipples. She licked the hard little buttons, savoring the slightly salty taste of his skin, first the one, then the other. When she used her teeth to nibble a little, she was rewarded. He growled again, this time more deeply.

She was rewarded even more when his hands shot forward and grabbed her breasts, finally, closing his thumb and index finger around her erect nipples to roll them between his fingers. It was a little painful at first but soon gave way to waves of electrifying pleasure, rolling down her body and breaking between her legs. She started moaning again, this time rather out of control.

“Shower,” he said, sounding urgent himself, “now.”

Sakura slipped out of her underwear quickly, throwing it after her trousers, hearing from the soft rustling of fabric that Kakashi had shed his clothes as well. For a brief moment, she regretted she had insisted on using no light, but she had to concentrate on finding the shower booth, bumping her hip on one of the sliding doors while walking backwards. His solid presence was close to her, radiating a comforting warmth as he followed. His hands found the shower handle before her, sending a gush of ice cold water onto both of them. She screamed and he laughed, both of them trying to adjust the temperature, resulting in them almost getting burned next before they managed to get it right.

With the water drumming down, he fumbled around for something and she realized it had to be soap, there was a dispenser for body wash and soap fixed to the wall of the shower in her apartment and indeed, it was what he found here too. He began to lather her with fragrant soap, meticulously and slowly, starting with her hair, moving down her body. Heavenly.

Just when Sakura thought she might dissolve into a puddle on the shower floor and be washed away down the drain, he grabbed her buttocks, pulling her towards him for more needy kissing. It was then her stomach came to rest against the strutting length of his manhood. And it was at the contact with its firm readiness that it hit Sakura for the first time what she was doing.

It could have been a sobering realization, or a shocking one. But for reasons she did not want to think about, it was the opposite. She was stark naked with a man who wasn’t her husband, more turned on than she had ever been her entire life. In fact, she was about to explode from the need for a release, ready to beg to be taken right here and now. For a well-behaved, sheltered girl like her, this was so out of character, she felt she had nothing further to lose. Before her fears could stop her, she grabbed his shaft with both hands and began to squeeze and rub it with the soap from her own body.

From the way Kakashi deepend his kiss and made throaty sounds, she was guessing he liked it, like she had read men liked it. Encouraged to be more daring, she used her fingers to explore more of it, the tip, the bottom, the dangly bits, listening to the sounds he made, soon happily considering he would not stop her like her own husband always did. In fact, Sakura was quite convinced she was dominating this game now - but that was before he moved his fingers to her slit and she lost her grip on him.

Her legs almost buckled when he touched her bud with his thumb, circling it around it, flicking it and sliding his index finger down her wetness. Every inch of her felt swollen and ready to burst down there and it only needed a bit of pressure and the slight quickening of his thumb’s rhythm for her first orgasm to shake her. She clamped her mouth shut because she felt embarrassed at just how loudly she wanted to shout after so little effort on his part, but it was impossible to stop all the sound. So it was a whimper that escaped her as her body shook and her hands hit the shower wall with a loud thump for balance, a deplorable, drawn out sound that made her face heat up in embarrassment.

He chose to ignore it completely. She staggered, but his hand held her up, not stopping its movement for a second. With him firmly teasing just her nether lips and the opening to her hole for a bit, she came a second time, and this time, she moaned like her life depended on it.

Kakashi chuckled contently. “You know how to make a men feel good about himself,” he said. It was so far from what she thought the truth that she had to laugh, but since he chose to move his finger inside of her that very moment, the laughter changed to more moaning. That feeling…

“You’re so damn hot,” he panted, kissing down her neck and taking a nipple into his mouth, touching a spot within her that made her come a third time quickly, clenching around his finger for what seemed forever.

“Stop, stop, I need a break,” she begged out of breath and weak-legged, but he wouldn’t listen. Instead, he added a second finger to move in and out of her, used his thumb on her clit, his other hand on her nipples and kissed her more deeply than ever.

He truly did know how to make her happy. It was … intoxicating.

Just after her fourth orgasm overpowered her, one starting much deeper than the ones before it, leaving her so wobbly she needed to hang on to him for support, the sirens started.

Both of them froze, but only for a second. Kakashi hit the shower handle to stop the water and they stood there dripping, clinging onto each other like that could change anything about the brutal reality of the world they lived in, listening to the rise and fall of the raid warning.

Perimeter breach.

“I’ve got to go,” he said.

“Yes,” she said, tightening her grip on his arm for a moment as cold dread flooded her being. Not again. Not again.

“Sakura, you have to promise me not to budge,” Kakashi urged her, “your chakra depletion was severe, you are in no way fit to fight yet!”

She didn’t answer and he gripped her shoulders, hard. “I will not go until you promise me!”

“Alright,” she said reluctantly, because she would not be responsible for keeping him away from the battle, “I will stay here at the Hokage Tower.”

“It is the safest place in Konoha,” he said, sounding a bit like he wanted to convince himself just as much as her, “but if we need to evacuate, you go with the women and children, do you hear me?”

“Yes,” she heard herself say. Like she ever would. She’d be at the hospital waiting for the wounded, praying she wouldn’t see anyone she knew among the dead or dying.

He opened the shower door and stumbled out. A blinding light flared up overhead when he hit the light switch, forcing her to shield her eyes for a moment. When they were properly adjusted and she could see without squinting, he had already collected his clothes from the floor and was getting dressed at lightning speed. He looked at the ripped top he had worn with an expression of disdain, chucking it into the washbasin.

Sakura did not even dare to breathe. She was seeing glimpses of his face as he busied himself in front of her and he was either unaware of it or did not care. He did put on his mask at the end after bringing his hair into some kind of shape and turned to her. His eyes looked full of anguish. It also looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t know what or how.

Nothing needed to be said but one thing. “Don’t die,” Sakura whispered and smiled at him bravely.

Kakashi lifted his hand in a farewell gesture and rushed out. She heard him stop in the bedroom to put on his boots, then run across the living room and out the door.

Danger, danger, danger, the sirens blared.

Right, no time to mope. On shaking legs, Sakura stepped out of the shower to collect her clothes and get ready for duty.