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Star Catcher

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When he discovered her Kakashi thought he had finally found Rin, but twenty years later, Rin wouldn’t still be a child like the little girl he pulled from the pond muck. Rin would have been grown just like him. The girl he discovered was small enough to cradle in the crook of one arm while he pushed back the curious snouts of his dog companions.

He turned the body over, half hoping to see her eyes, and half dreading the possibility of meeting a milky sheen, but her lashes fluttered and she coughed up the dirt and pond water of the same color. Kakashi let go of an unsteady breath and then breathed a little easier.

He checked the radio on his belt next, but knew that even if it had been charged, they were still too far out for anyone to pick up. He’d take her back to the cabin and then call to see who was missing a kid. With the Washington forests, civilization had never had any illusion of a hold in some places still, so it wasn’t uncommon for hikers to get lost or turned around while out.

“Stop that,” he told Bull before pushing the puppy away and ignoring the whine. His young pack was all a bit too eager to sniff and huff at the small child in atypical behavior. Sure, they were friendly, but they seemed especially anxious when it came to kids. He was a hypocrite to chastise them for it. Kakashi knew they only followed his example. 

When he carried her back he managed to reign his heart back from the lows it sunk to whenever he thought of Rin. She had been a forbidden thought for so long, but hope broke all rules. Years ago she had sunk into a pond in the same forest and never turned up. Swim after swim and search after search resulted in the same disappointment.

“This one is lucky,” he hummed out loud, cradling the small child closer to his chest. Bull jumped again but Kakashi kept the girl out of reach and safer than safe. “We’re going to take her home and get her cleaned up.”

At his heels the other dogs sniffed at the earth and shuffled along around his heels, keeping closer than normal. He kept talking out loud to put them at ease as they passed under the ancient prances that made the canopy something too far out of reach for mortal men. So deep and so far from anything man made, the forest could be imposing, even to animals.

Kakashi felt a tingle in his spine and started to jog.  Home was far off and he was eager to reach the cabin sooner rather than later. Once there he could charge the radio and get a hold of someone who could help.

It took almost another hour but the Cabin finally came into view and the rest of his pack broke out into a dead run, happy to be home. Most circled back to stick at his side, but other ran headlong towards the property boundary line and frolicked there, waiting for him to join them.

Kakashi glared at his runaway traitors but they yapped, too happy to care about his disapproval.  He pulled back the screen and the heavy door swung open on creaking hinges he purposely kept noisy. So far out in the middle of nowhere, in a cabin with nothing of great value, there was no point in keeping it locked.

Keeping her in his arms, Kakashi slipped the radio off his belt and into the charging station before moving to the back where the bathroom would be. She was still damp and dirty and he was worried about fever setting in.

He let the warm water run and laid her down on the couch in the living room, cradling her head as it tried to stay in his hand. He tried to ignore the way that made his chest pinch. She had such a soft face full of baby fat and dreams.

Half of his dogs were settling down around her couch while the others slunk off to their usual haunts, happy to be home.

As the tub filled up he went back to the radios and pulled the extra out and radioed in. There was nothing but static and he cursed. Changing the channel he tried again and got nothing in response to his calls. Someone wasn’t listening when they should be…or they let their radios go dead like he had. Of all the days for him to fuck up.

He moved to drop the radio back into the dock when something broke the static.

“Hound dog there?”

If it had been any other day for any other reason he would have ignored the voice, but he had no one else.

“It’s Kakashi. I’ve got a kid out at the cabin in bad shape. You hear anything about a missing girl?”

“Cabin?” Anko squawked. “Where did you find her?”

On the other end of the connection he could hear the rev of her four wheeler and knew she was likely the only one close enough to reach him in any respectable amount of time. She would probably do a better job of caring for the girl, even if she was a psycho.

“How soon can you get here?” he asked.

“Already on my way. Ten, maybe five minutes.” 

“I’ll keep trying the others.” And then because she was helping him he added, “Thanks.”

The tub was nearly filled and steaming so he turned the water off and let it cool. He searched through the old closet for something she could use after she changed and found a couple of dresses that would fit too well. He recognized one of them after a second glance and stuffed it back into the darkest part of the closet, keeping the other one out.

Anko’s jeep rumbled outside, beckoning Kakashi to the porch where he could stand to watch her dismount. She dropped her helmet on the seat, not bothering to tuck it away, then took the stairs to his porch two at a time. She clapped him on the shoulder and grinned when he held the door open for her.

“Such a gentleman,” she teased, shedding her jacket onto her wrists and then tossing it onto the wall hook where it caught and hung itself perfectly. Her sharp eyes scanned the room and then she turned back with an unspoken question.

“She’s on the couch, still asleep. I’ll drive her out once she’s cleaned up and better. I don’t think she has fever, but she was damp almost the whole way back.”

Kakashi moved to point out the cradled bundle and frowned when he noticed Bull in the process of climbing up onto the couch next to her. Caught, the dog whined and bowed his head as he slipped back down onto the floor, tail slapping intermittently when he thought no one was looking.

“She looks fine,” Anko groused, leaning over the kid. “She’s just small and cold.” Anko reached down to pick the girl up and carry her off.

Kakashi made his way into the kitchen and prepared what he could with the limited resources available. He had a waffle maker and just enough batter for a ‘breakfast for dinner’ spread. It was already twilight and growing dimmer every minute. Summer could only hold up the sun for so long.

He was halfway through the batter when he heard Anko’s call from the other room.  He pried the latest waffle off the grill and left it where it sat, wiping his hands clean on his jeans.  The door was partially ajar, but he didn’t cross the threshold or push it open for the sake of the girl’s privacy.

“What is it?” he asked in a grumble.

“Which mark was it that Rin had?”

He couldn’t speak for a moment as all the blood in his body went ice cold. Wordless, he pushed open the door and stepped in, kneeling down behind Anko as she dried off the girl who was mostly awake, but still mostly out of it.

There was a drowsiness in her eyes as she blinked up at his arrival. Anko had her wrapped in a towel, but he could still see it. Just under her collarbone, above where her heart would be, the freckles of her body stood out in the shape of a familiar constellation, not the same as Rin’s, but a constellation all the same.

“Well?” Anko snapped impatiently.

Kakashi already knew the answer without having to brush the hair out of his dead eye. “No, it’s different, but she’s a part of a new set all the same.”

Anko cursed and Kakashi bristled at the language being spoken in front of a child, but Anko didn’t care. “I thought that hunt was over. My mark hasn’t burned in years. Not since-”

Kakashi cut her off. “Neither has mine, but that’s not to say it couldn’t, especially now that another person has showed up with the markings.”

Kakashi swallowed when the girl opened her eyes fully to regard him, still looking drowsy. She didn’t look a thing like Rin when her features were taken into question, but that didn’t stop the gut punch reaction that echoed inside his heart when her eyes met his. 

“Hey kid,” Anko interjected, saving Kakashi from what would have been a fun little panic attack. “Where are your parents? Do you remember anything?”

“What’s you name, sweetheart?” Kakashi tried in a softer voice.

She had started to move her gaze around the room, but like gravity, her eyes fell on his face once more. “Sakura.”

“Sakura, what a pretty name. Do you know where your family might be, or what their names might be?”

Sakura started to shake her head before something like a thought made her pause and nod instead. She swallowed before answering. “They’re all gone.”

“Who’s all gone?” Anko asked, not minding how Sakura seemed to ignore her.

“All of them.” She raised her little hands and curled her fingers. “A big whale just….” She mimicked taking a big bite of something and then swallowing.

Kakashi felt the panic building once more.

“Cetus,” Anko hissed. “Kakashi, whoever her folks were they’re-”

“That’s enough,” Kakashi interrupted with a firm whisper. He moved closer and knelt down in front of Sakura. He reached for her shoulder and then moved his hand instead to cup her cheek, one thumb tracing a path under her eye. “That’s enough of that.”

With his other hand he moved aside the long hair and his dead eye opened.


Several Years Later


Sakura opened her eyes to a mess of fur by her face. It was almost enough to make her sneeze. Turning over wasn’t much better as a new coat of fur sandwiched her in on the other side. Behind her knees another warm body rested.

Mop whined and Sakura reached out to scratch his back along the ridge where his spine stood up. He stretched happily with the contact and then flopped back down against her side, huffing in contentment.

“I must have been noisy again,” Sakura breathed, speaking more to herself than the dogs hogging her bed.

When she got restless or noisy in her sleep it agitated the dogs and Kakashi didn’t stop them from climbing into bed with her when she slept, so it wasn’t rare to wake up sandwiched between four or five dogs that all wanted nothing more than for her to sleep as peacefully as the rest of them. 

Unfortunately for them, fifteen years later and she still had nightmares about things she didn’t even remember.

“I have class today, you guys need to move,” She hissed, wiggling in place under the blankets. “Guuuuys.”

From the doorway she heard a chuckle and sat up on her elbows to see Kakashi in her doorway, sewing up the holes in one of his old shirts. His stitches were messy but efficient, which was the only thing he cared about.

“You let them in,” Sakura grumbled.

“Don’t complain. You know you can’t sleep without them.” He pushed off the doorframe and started to head back down the stairs, calling back over his shoulder. “Breakfast is on the counter. Hurry and get it so I can finish feeding the rest of the dogs.”

Mop and Bagel perked up at the mention of food like it was magic, but it was Chainsaw, the tiny Jack Terrier who slept behind her knees, that took off first, barking all down the stairs.  Sakura flapped her covers up and the rest of the dogs scattered.

It took her a few minutes more to dress and clip up her hair in a messy bun that would hide how she had skipped a couple day’s showers. She could do that when she got done with classes, but the mornings were always too busy for her to squeeze one more thing in. 

Pancakes were in a glass dish on the counter. A plate was left out along with the apple sauce and blueberry syrup. She peeled up the glass lid and inhaled the apple chunks Kakashi had folded into the pancakes.

“You’re being extra nice to me today,” Sakura hummed in new delight. She served herself and joined him at the counter where he read the paper and drank his first coffee of the day. By the time he made it to the station she knew he would need another.

“You have midterms today.”

Sakura speared the pieces of her pancake and dragged them through the blueberry syrup. “I had them yesterday too. Why the pancakes today?”

Kakashi smiled over his paper . “It’s just a treat to celebrate you wrapping up another leg of your education. After today you’re free for a while.”

Sakura snorted and moved the food around in her mouth to make decipherable words. “Yeah right. You’ve got me booked up. Camping was enough but all the other stuff…”

She grabbed for the water and swallowed what she could before going back for more, knowing well and good that Kakashi watched her in his own way. There wasn’t a lot the ‘Chief of Police’ missed.        

“I’ll pick you up after classes end. Make sure your phone is charged.” His paper crinkled as he folded it back up and left it behind.

Sakura finished a few minutes later and ran around the house, grabbing her books, her charger, the notecards she left by the television, her lip gloss, and something for her hair. At the door Kakashi waited with her water bottle, the one thing she forgot to grab.

“I was going to get that,” she grumbled, accepting the HydroFlask with a flush high on her cheeks.

Kakashi’s smile made his eyes crinkle.

The old Ford pick up truck was worn in and familiar in the way all comfortable things were. The collection of pine scented air fresheners, dangled from the rearview mirror as they pulled out and turned around to exit the long driveway that hid their house behind a smattering of trees along the main road. It was as privet as they could get while still being close enough to civilization.

The police scanner cracked once or twice, but the entire drive was blissfully uninterrupted for once. Even if their county was quiet, they had enough bored officers and citizens who knew how to clog up the airwaves.

“Did you pack a lunch?” Kakashi asked as he started to turn into the local college’s nearest parking lot.

Sakura waved her wallet instead. “I was going to buy something.”

Kakashi turned his nose up. “You buy junk. You need to eat better. Here, take this,” he said as he began to reach for his own home packed lunch of leftover chicken, green beans and rice.

Sakura scrambled for her door. “No, don’t make me take your lunch, I wanna go out with my friends!” 

“Don’t eat junk.”

“I won’t.” She playfully crossed her heart and smiled, knowing he wouldn’t push the issue any more, even if he wanted to. “See you at three.”

“Three thirty!” he called after her, but Sakura was already hopping down and throwing the door shut behind her. His truck idled there until she was out of sigh somewhere down the way.

A few of her friends were already inside and at their preferred seats, but another group lingered outside cramming last minute notes. Sakura joined in for a few minutes before she realized their panic was more detrimental than helpful, and found her usual seat.

Nothing else of interest made her take notice as one class turned into two and then three and then lunch and then her last and final class which consisted of watching a documentary while the professor graded midterms in a rush of packets and essay answer pages.

Sakura didn’t worry when three o clock came and went. She didn’t even worry when three thirty came and passed. At four she started to fret. Her phone had 9% battery and she didn’t want to go back inside to charge it, (because she had forgotten her power pack) but  once she slipped down to 3% she gave up. She’d be able to watch the circle from somewhere with an outlet.

It wouldn’t be the first time he was late, and she doubted it would be the last. Officers had a demanding job and being the Chief, Kakashi was responsible for a lot of what went wrong or awry in their mostly quiet town of Delphinium Washington. It wasn’t unusual for him to get caught up and become unable to answer his phone.

One of her friends from the first class passed by and Sakura caught an idea. “Hey, Karin, you heading south?”

The redhead turned with a halfhearted scowl. “Another ride?”

Sakura’s smile was one no one could stay annoyed at. “Let me tag along please. Just to the station.”

Exhaling, Karin inclined her head in the direction of the parking lots and gestured for Sakura to follow. “Your dad needs to just get you a car or something. You’re bumming from someone every week.”

Sakura laughed because it was true, she was a habitual ride bum, but she didn’t correct Karin about Kakashi not really being her dad. It was a tired and old story she had no desire to try and drag up. She didn’t know who her real father was, but it wasn’t Kakashi, and he had no desire to take on the title of ‘Papa’ if his reactions were anything to go by.

The drive from college to station was as long as any other. When Sakura thanked Karin she got the middle finger, which made her laugh because they both knew better. Karin didn’t have a drop of venom in her blood when it came to Sakura (but only Sakura). To the rest of the world she was a viper.

The secretary looked up when Sakura pushed the door aside, but relaxed once she saw who it was. “Oh, we figured you’d be by. Kakashi got a call and wasn’t sure he’d be able to get you,” Kurenai explained. “Tell him to buy you a car, already.”

There was soft music playing in the back where the officer desks were set up, while in the lobby there was a table with the day old doughnuts she helped herself to. Kurenai’s husband was trying to lose weight so she insisted the morning treats be left where she could see them instead of in the back next to the coffee where they used to always be.

Sakura felt familiar with every detail and aspect of the police station, down to the designs the wood grains made in the floorboards. As a child she had amused herself with looking for rabbits out of the lines and curves, but as an adult she knew better that to let herself get lost in such thoughts. Still, she knew the floorboard under the water fountain had a stain that looked like a turkey.

“I don’t mind waiting, and it’s not like I couldn’t manage if he didn’t come for me.” Sakura licked powdered frosting off her lips. “Any news on when he’ll be back?”

“It’s a local dispute he had to run and settle. He shouldn’t be much longer. Want to go back and keep his office seat warm?”

Sakura leaned back on her heels and peered down the hallway into the next room where she could see Yamato at his desk, but no sign of the others. It made sense that Might Guy and Asuma be out on patrol, since the former couldn’t keep still to save his life, but there were two acting deputies and neither was at his desk.

“Depends,” Sakura began in a low voice. “Who’s here?”

Kurenai just laughed and went back to answering another email that dinged on her computer screen. Sakura grumbled but stuffed the rest of her doughnut into her mouth before heading for Kakashi’s office at the far end.

Yamato looked up from his police  report and Sakura smiled back as she pointed to Kakashi’s closed door. Sometimes she wasn’t allowed in, but if Kurenai said it was okay she doubted the others would bar her from entering.

Wordless, Yamato gestured for her to head inside. When Sakura shot him a funny look he touched a single finger to his lips and pointed to the bathrooms. Sakura heard the water running-oh!- and darted the rest of the way to dive into Kakashi’s office before the on-duty deputy could spot her. It didn’t really matter which one it was, both and them gave her headaches.

The blinds were all turned down, but she hadn’t close the door all the way, and sound still carried.

“Who was it that just came in?” Shisui asked.

“Not anyone for you and no one with the missing police report you’ve owed me for two days now. When Kakashi comes back I’m going to be a hard ass about it,” Yamato answered sharply.

Sakura said a silent prayer of thanks to the younger officer for being so understanding. 

Of the two deputies on staff, one had all the local connections and knowledge and the other had all the fancy training and big city police connections from his family. Of the two deputies, Sakura didn’t mind the first quite so much. Since getting over her teenage crush on Iruka, it had become easier to be around him. Shisui was a whole other monster. Both still gave her headaches though.

The desk was a mess for being as empty as it was, but Sakura set to cleaning it as best as she could without disturbing things she didn’t know anything about. There was a photo framed by his desktop computer, but it wasn’t of her. Inside the silver boarders a trio of kids smiled under the watchful eye of their Scout Leader.

The photo usually stayed in the top drawer of his desk. Sakura wondered why Kakashi had taken it out.

The door to the office opened before her thoughts could go anywhere else and her heart sank as Shisui’s grinning face filled the doorway. Yamato slumped in defeat at his desk past Shisui’s shoulder.

“I should have guessed we had a mouse somewhere in the station. What are you doing? Hiding?” he teased, tone far too filled with glee for her liking.

Sakura rolled her eyes and made a gagging expression.  “Ugh, don’t you have actual work you need to be doing?”

“Sweet tart that’s what I’m in here for.” He winked her way before crossing the room to the far wall’s filing cabinets.  “Don’t you have any work to get to?”

“No.” Sakura turned back to fall into Kakashi’s desk chair with her arms crossed. “Not like it’s any of your business, but I’m off.”

“That sound like so much fun. Wish I could join in with that, but the Chief is a real slave driver.”

“Nah, you’re just lazy. Yamato even said so.”

“It’s true!” Yamato called into the office from his desk.

“Lazy doesn’t solve seventy three percent of all recent cases.”

“Seventy three percent of the cases in Delphinium are disputes about someone’s cow stepping on their neighbor’s pet cat. Don’t act like that’s anything worth bragging about.” 

“That’s as good as it gets in Hicksville.” Shisui took a half step towards her and bent at his waist in her direction. “Don’t miss me too much when I graduate and move on to bigger and better things.”

“You mean like a nose job?”

Yamato choked in the other room and Shisui scowled out the doorway.  He took a half step back and shifted his weight so that his voice carried when he shouted out of the office to where Yamato sat. “At least my nose isn’t stained brown from kissing ass all day long.”

“Language!” Kurenai snapped, appearing at the far end of the hall.

For the first time, Shisui appeared to flinch and hike his shoulders. But before anything more could be said or done the front door opened and a pair of shadows darkened the doorway, stomping mud from their boots.

“Is Sakura here?” she heard Kakashi ask from out of sight.

“Here!” she called loudly.

She left the office behind and met him halfway, grinning as he caught her by the elbows.

“You didn’t call,” she chastised.

“The woods did that thing again. Sorry. I had to restart my phone and then I was practically here. Your midterms all done?”

She nodded and he tucked her under his arm in an affectionate hug while Guy moved in behind him, squeezing around to get to his desk. As he passed, the officer reached out to ruffle her hair like he had when she was eight.

“Kurenai,” Kakashi called. “If you need me, my phone should be working.”

The secretary gave him double finger guns in acknowledgment.

“It’s four thirty in the afternoon,” Shisui huffed.

“Practically dinner time,” Kakashi cheered, unfazed by the younger Uchiha’s  exasperation as he waved to Might Guy. “Guy, I trust you with my life and my town.”

“Does that mean we’re not going to see you for several days?” Yamato asked, interjecting. He looked exhausted.

“They’ll be slow days.”

Kakashi turned around to help guide Sakura out and into his truck. Climbing in, she caught sight of Shisui watching them from the office window, but didn’t bother to flip him the bird this time.

As the engine roused to life Kakashi apologized for the miscommunication or ,more accurately, the lack of communication on his part. It wasn’t something that was unheard of, even for county police chiefs with the best cell coverage tax dollars could afford. Everyone had troubles with their phones if they went too deep into the woods.

“What were you doing out there?”

“Nothing too interesting. Some property damage needing inspecting. Most likely another wild animal. How was your day?”

She didn’t have a lot to say, but Kakashi listened anyway, and asked extending questions when he could until they were back at the driveway. Sakura got out first to grab the mail and then walk to rest of the way back. When she had been younger, Kakashi would promise to wait for her and then drive off without her, leaving her to scream and run after his taillights. After years of such teasing she knew better than to try and catch him.

The dogs swarmed to meet her halfway back, and she greeted each of them in turn, happy to be back with them even if she enjoyed school and her friends. She dropped the mail by the door and turned back around to throw the toys they pushed into her hands.

Ginger, the Golden Retriever went positively mad when anything was thrown for her. Her whole backside shook with the force of her wagging tail while Chainsaw, the terrier, and Bagel, the Russian wolfhound, tried their best to keep up with her. Bagel was fast, probably the fastest of the lot, but Ginger was a magnet on anything thrown, and if Bagel lost track of the stick or ball, it was all Ginger’s. 

Kakashi’s dogs, Shiba and Biscuit barked and ran around her legs while the rest of his senior pack was content to watch from the deck.  A few minutes later when she turned around, Kakashi was there too, looking just as tired and lazy as his pack, but holding out a skillet with cheese quesadilla for her to see.

“Snack?”

Sakura couldn’t help but smile. “You’ll ruin my dinner.”

Kakashi scratched at the back of his neck. “I think dinner might need to be take out again. I didn’t pick up enough meat for what I had planned. Pizza sound good?”

Sakura grabbed the cheese oozing quesadilla from his skillet and started to chew without napkin or plate. The dogs started to all whine, smelling food that she had no intention of sharing with them.

From inside, the phone rang but Kakashi ignored it after checking the number off the caller id. When Sakura asked who it was his only reply was, ‘not important.’

Sakura raised half her butt to rest on the railing and stared off into the dark shadows cast by trees. It wasn’t as thick as the forest around their weekend cabin, but sometimes the shadows stretched long enough to trick her into thinking the heart of the forest was just beyond her finger tips.

With cheese trailing in a messy string from her lips, she raised her hand and leveled it with her eyes before stretching it out as far as her arm would allow. The tree trunks were right there, thick as her fingers.

“Do I have time for a walk?” she called back over her shoulder.

Kakashi came back to the doorway with an annoyed look as the dogs went wild around his ankles. Their property was fenced in and the dogs had plenty of free room to roam, but exploring in the woods was a favorite pastime they would always go crazy for.

“Did you suddenly forget how to spell w-a-l-k?”

Sakura pasted on her best ‘innocent’ smile and bat her eyes. “Sorry.” 

Kakashi held up the silver dog whistle and she grabbed it by the chain, reaching up to kiss his chin before skipping down the rest of the way. At the fence a wild pack whined and paced, tails wagging so hard their whole back ends shook with the force.

Only a few of the older dogs, like Bull and Pakkun, elected to stay behind. Sakura gave both a kiss before slipping out the back gate, leaving only Chainsaw behind, because the Jack Russel Terrier was the only one of the lot who she didn’t trust not to come back to her when she whistled 100% of the time, and she didn’t feel like leashing him up.

She felt like running.

There was a familiar crunch as her boots dug into the fallen foliage, and then the barks from her pack echoed in her ears, before the rest of the world faded and she became nothing but a single instinct.

Run.

All the stress and study and worry and work fell away like weights as she ran through the trees so knew. The beaten path was faint but familiar. She knew where she was going and she knew she needed nothing but her own legs to get there.

Between the trees no one was there to watch her, to judge or evaluate. Her chest felt lighter than it had in weeks even as her lungs began to burn around the edges.

She ran until she couldn’t. The path opened up to a clearing the fed into a shallow dell she could drop into. The path was wide and long and in parts it betrayed the intended road long ago people planned in an act of hubris. The forest was so far out and separated by a great void of civilization, but decades ago men with more money than brains thought it would be only a matter of time before the next city took root in the small town of Delphinium.

Sakura followed the dell until it swelled flat and even with the rest of the forest floor, and the skeleton of a gatehouse hanging onto what was left of the estate’s gate. Sakura jogged up past it, knowing well the interior of the four story lodge where a fancy man’s driver was meant to live almost a hundred years ago. 

Sakura called to Bagel when he ran off to far, and the happy Wolf hound raced back to her side, licking at her hand as she walked over the ruined road and up to the mansion behind the trees. The doors were still there, wood and chewed through in parts, but still more intact than the ones to the gatehouse.

“Let’s see,” Sakura hummed out loud to herself and her dogs as she pushed open the heavy doors. One gave more than the other, letting her in.

It was just as she remembered it. The footprints in the dust and debris were all from her, telling the story of how she frequented the forgotten manor in the woods. The library was bare of all its books save a handful Sakura had brought over herself, including a field journal that still wasn’t finished.

Sakura walked in with the dogs trailing at her heels and found the journal right where she left it. Flipping it open she ran her fingers over the pages, rereading entries about wayward stars and made up forest spirits, before flipping to the end. Blank pages stared up at her and she itched to fill them.

She checked the desk that still stood and pulled out her pencil tin, but all the colored pencils were dull and short. She had forgotten to bring new ones with her.

“Sucks, Ginger,” she whined to her Golden Retriever. “I had another dream I wanted to draw too.” She reached for the dog and scratched her behind her ears. “Not the one from last night, though.”

Mop barked from the doorway, more annoyed at the fact someone else was getting attention. Sakura held out her arms and the Irish Wolfhound trotted over before nearly knocking Sakura over as he tried to wedge himself in between her and Ginger, the other dog.

She laughed and stood, replacing her tin and giving the notebook another longing glance before stuffing it back too. In the hallway she heard Bagel in a room down the hall and jogged down to yell at him. He was between the printing presses once used to print a local newspaper.

The machines were the most eerie part of the whole mansion, she thought after learning how the man who started their local newspaper used his wealth to try and defy nature by building his dream mansion in the middle of nowhere. Lost to the forest were a scattering of other homes, some only left with their foundations, that once sought to be a part of the new world’s ‘city of dreams.’

Sakura called all the dogs to her with the note of a silver whistle and together they made it back in one piece, no worse for wear. Sakura ran like she wanted to beat the dogs back, but they were too much to catch up with and she ended up out of breath, red faced, and too happy to care back on the porch.

“Finally, little miss wilderness decided to join us. I was just about to call,” Kakashi said as he held up his own whistle. It would have grabbed the dog’s attention enough to let Sakura know she needed to head back. “Did you have a fun run?”

“I wasn’t even gone that long,” Sakura whined as she stomped the mud out of her boots and then left them by the door. “But yeah, I did. Thanks for asking. Is that pizza?”

Kakashi hummed, moving aside for her to see the box from their favorite hole in the wall parlor. Sakura loved how they piled on the cheese for her. She felt the saliva pool in her mouth and her jaw ached.

“Wash your hands first, you animal,” Kakashi chastised.

Sakura was already in the kitchen, hands under the faucet. The dogs were splitting up to take up places in their usual haunts. The phone on the wall rang again.

“Gonna get that?” she called.

“Nah,” Kakashi called back. “Pizza is still hot.”

“Hey!” Sakura scrambled to dry her hands and join Kakashi before he could take the best slice. For as good as their cheese count was their slice cutting was horrible. Not all slices were cut equal.

Kakashi’s smile made his eyes crinkle and she could see the beginnings of crows feet by his eyes.

They took their slices and in the background Kakashi turned the television on to let the news play on mute with closed captions. Nothing reported ever had to do with Delphinium. Occasionally the neighboring towns like Summerwood and Maidborough would have something to contribute but it was always the cities like Brewster, Republic, and Okanogan that had something worth leaning in for.

Sakura was fine with that. She had enough anxiety without having to worry about Kakashi being shot in his cruiser by someone with a chip on their shoulder. The most drama he had to endure was cold soup from a dinner that didn’t appreciate his bust of the marijuana ring last year. Things were fine as they were. The nightmares could stay in her sleep.

Absently, Kakashi leaned back and ran a hand over the back of his neck, watching the words on the screen. The phone rang again and he groaned before standing to get it. “If I don’t, she’ll never give up,” he grumbled.

Sakura sat up a little straighter in her seat, wondering who this ‘she’ person could be. If it was Kurenai he wouldn’t act so hesitant. In all the years she had known him, he hadn’t dated or taken a lady friend for longer than a week before ruining it. The last one had lasted twelve days and then dumped him in front of the marijuana dinner.

Sakura followed him up to the kitchen threshold and waited behind the wall, listening.

“Oi! I’ve been calling all day!” a woman screeched through the old receiver. “Haven’t you felt it too?”

“You’re screaming.” Kakashi turned around and glared at Sakura, waving her off. “Take it down a few decibels and try again to convince me to care.”

He moved as far as the board would allow him and Sakura knew better than to try and listen any more. He would tell her later if he wanted, and no depth of curiosity on her part would change that. She got back to the table and gasped at Chainsaw chewing on what had been left of her crust, standing on her chair with his forepaws on either side of her plastic plate. He looked unremorseful until Sakura gasped again and chased him off the table and into a corner where he sulked, penned  in the time out pen.

“This is why I don’t take you on walks.”

He whined and looked at her like an angry child being punished. Sakura didn’t bat an eye as she returned to the table to get a new slice and eat it where he could see her and whine about it.

Kakashi came back into the room only long enough to stuff what was left of his crust into his mouth before he was reaching for his jacket. Sakura startled.

“Where are you going?” It was nearly dark. “Is it work? You’re supposed to be off.”

“Not work, but almost work. I shouldn’t be longer than a couple of hours but don’t wait up for me. I’ll take my phone and my dogs.” 

He scratched the back of his neck as he turned and looked around for his smart phone, helpless until Sakura found it for him. They were a perfect pair, never able to find their own things. When she handed it off he pulled her in to kiss the top of her head and something like fear ran down her spine.

“Do you have to go?” she asked, chest tight.

“I’ll be quick.”

But when he pulled away her hands fisted at the edges of his jacket, stopping him.

“Don’t go, please.”

He hesitated but then took her hands and eased them off the zipper trail, rubbing his thumbs into the skin on the back of her palms. “You’ll be fine, kiddo. You’re not nine anymore.”

“It’s not that. I just…” Sakura looked up at Kakashi’s kind face and felt too guilty to finish her words, so she swallowed them and forced herself to take a step back. “It’s nothing,” she finally managed to say. “Come back soon.”

“I will.”

She watched him go, staying on the threshold to outside. He was climbing into his truck with the Delphinium Police writing and the expired pine scented air fresheners. They jostled when he adjusted the rearview mirror.

Sakura convinced herself to breath easy and wave him goodbye. Twilight was settling in and the last few colors of the sky bled out as Kakashi turned the truck around and headed for the road.

“Stay safe,” she said, knowing he wouldn’t hear her. In the hallway she caught sight of herself in the mirror and frowned. “Don’t be stupid,” she told her reflection. “He’ll be fine.”

But two hours turned into three and then four, and then five. He had sent her a text not to wait up and he might be out even later than he thought but he promised to be there in the morning. Nothing else. No name of the woman he was with, no explanation for why he was out, nothing more.   

She fell asleep in spite of her worry and woke in the morning to a house too cold and empty feeling in spite of all the dogs. Fear kept her from running, but eventually she made it to the front of the house where she looked out to find the parking path where his truck was supposed to be.

 

Empty.