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There are few things more humiliating than being rescued by your student, Kakashi thinks, trying to dislodge his foot from a particularly mangled pile of stone.

 

“I warned you,” Sakura grunts, pushing aside the debris all around him. There’s still chakra flowing in uncontrolled waves through her forearm and fist, and she obliterates a few more stones without even noticing. The rock dust floating around is starting to permeate Kakashi’s mask, and he sneezes.

 

She gives another tug, and he’s free. She pulls him upright with a force that nearly lifts him off his feet

 

“You said ‘look out,’” Kakashi corrects her. “You neglected to say why.” His voice is raspy, and he can’t quite manage the disapproving tone he wants. He’s aching all over, and his knees have gone watery. Overuse of the Sharingan, or maybe he’s just getting old. It’s difficult to tell sometimes.

 

“How many times have I trained with you?” Sakura asks. “What did you think I meant?” She’s brushing the dirt off his vest – for what purpose, Kakashi can’t possibly imagine. It just exposes all the rips and bloodstains.

 

“I told you to back and cover until I gave the signal,” he says. “It’s not like you jump in like that.”

 

The smallest tightening of Sakura’s mouth is the only indication that his criticism has struck a nerve. She keeps patting him down, and he realizes she’s not just dusting him off – she’s checking for injuries.

 

She reaches up and picks a few twigs from his hair. Then she stands on her tiptoes to pull his hitai-ate down over his Sharingan. He holds very still as her small fingers brush across his cheeks. Her breasts are a soft pressure through the dual layer of their vests.

 

“I thought I could help,” is all she says.

 

His throat is suddenly dry, and not just from all the dust in the air. “Well,” he says, intentionally lightening his tone. “No harm done, I suppose.”

 

They both look to where their opponent is buried under the rubble that used to be solid ground. He hadn’t moved quite as quickly as Kakashi.

 

Sakura looks away first, away from all the blood. At this point, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s from the injuries Kakashi inflicted or from the rocks Sakura’s punch showered down on his head.

 

“Let’s go find Naruto and Sai and head back,” she says. “Tsunade-shishou will want to know about this.”

 

*

 

“Kakashi has recommended you for ANBU,” Tsunade says casually, and Sakura jerks her head up from the mission report she’s been poring over. “What do you think about that?”

 

The head of Konoha is surveying her through calm eyes, hands folded on top of her desk. Sakura tries to answer a few times, but only manages to soundlessly move her lips.

 

Finally she manages a baffled, “I don’t know what to think.”

 

“Me neither,” Tsunade says. “It’s unorthodox for a medic-nin of your level to join, but not unheard of.”

 

“You did it,” Sakura points out.

 

“Impertinent,” Tsunade says mildly, and Sakura blushes, realizing she just inadvertently compared herself to the Hokage.

 

“I didn’t…I just meant…”

 

Tsunade ignores her stuttering. “I hadn’t thought of it myself, but Kakashi’s never recommended anyone before, either.”

 

Sakura stares. “Not even Naruto?” she can’t help but ask. She hates the bit of insecurity that creeps into her voice.

 

Tsunade doesn’t answer her question. “You’re released for the day. I’ll need to think on it.”

 

*

 

“What did you mean by that?” Sakura says accusingly.

 

Kakashi blinks at her. “You were surprised?”

 

Honestly, the nerve of him sometimes. “You basically told me I was unfit to be a jounin on our last mission,” she says, outraged. “Now you’re saying I’m good enough to guard the Hokage?”

 

Kakashi sets his book down. It’s a flashy orange one today. Sakura refuses to look at the title, or the accompanying picture.

 

“I think it would be good experience for you,” he says simply. “You’re ready.”

 

She narrows her eyes. “Is this because of what happened last time? You don’t want me on your team anymore because I don’t follow orders, is that it?”

Kakashi’s eye crinkles into that fake smile never fails to make her blood boil. “No, no, nothing like that,” he says, waving a hand. “It was just an idea. If it’s too daunting for you, I’m sure Tsunade will be just as happy to have you at the hospital.”

 

Which is the exact right thing to say to get her to accept, she thinks morosely. Kakashi is a genius in more ways than one, and sometimes she thinks his greatest skill is his ability to manipulate.

 

She’s never been first to anything before. Naruto and Sasuke have always been there ahead of her, jockeying for first position, leaving her behind. First to ANBU, she thinks. Then, Yes.

 

*

 

It takes Naruto almost two weeks to realize that Sakura isn’t training with them on a regular basis anymore. Sai notices much earlier, but he if he has any questions about it, he keeps them to himself. Kakashi wouldn’t be surprised if he already knew. Sai has a way of keeping his own council.

 

Naruto, on the other hand, pesters Kakashi about it for three days straight. Kakashi feeds him as many false excuses as he can think up, and when he runs out of those (which takes a long, long time), he just fakes temporary hearing loss.

 

Sakura still trains with them when she’s not on mission. Those are the better days, he admits to himself. Naruto and Sai are more difficult to control without Sakura as a buffer between them, just as Naruto and Sasuke were. Kakashi finds himself watching her (a little too often for comfort, if truth be told), the lightening-quick strike of her fist, the imperceptible tensing of her thighs before she leaps away. She’s always been a quick study, and he can see the positive influence that her time in ANBU is having on her.

 

She doesn’t like to kill, but she likes to fight, his little student. She takes joy in her own strength, and Kakashi watches for the day that joy disappears, for the day that ANBU strips it from her. He’s prepared to shoulder the responsibility for that, if need be. It doesn’t happen, though. She’ll surpass Tsunade someday, and then Kakashi supposes he’ll be able to lean back in his rocking chair and tell stories about how he taught her once.

 

He congratulates himself on making a good recommendation.

 

Sometimes she smiles up at him at the end of training, exhausted and bright-eyed, and his tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth. He asks Obito if lusting after Sakura makes him a dirty old man. Obito’s reply in his head is succinct, rude, and ends in “you idiot.” Kakashi isn’t sure whether to take that as a yes or a no.

 

*

 

He’s in Tsunade’s office when the news comes in: Sakura’s team ambushed mid-mission. One team member dead, the other three injured and in critical care.

 

“Sakura?” Tsunade says, white-faced. Her voice doesn’t shake, but Kakashi sees her fingers making dents in the solid oak of her desk. The Hokage really shouldn’t be playing favorites, he notes distantly.

 

The runner scrambles back a step. “Alive,” he reports hastily. “Shattered right femur. She’s in surgery now.”

 

Kakashi feels a little light-headed, and it takes him a moment to realize it’s relief.

 

“Fine,” Tsunade says. “I’ll be up to the hospital shortly.”

 

When the runner is gone, she sinks down into her seat and presses her fingertips against her forehead. Kakashi isn’t sure whether to be flattered or alarmed that he’s allowed to witness such a display of weakness.

 

“That was stupid of me,” she says in a low voice. “I shouldn’t have singled Sakura out like that.”

 

Kakashi searches around for the words that won’t get him thrown through a window. He’d like to go visit Sakura in the hospital, but he has no desire to be occupying one of the beds himself.

 

“Everyone knows she’s your student,” Kakashi says cautiously. “It’s a natural reaction.”

 

“You didn’t have it,” Tsunade says matter-of-factly.

 

Kakashi says nothing.

 

“I didn’t want her in ANBU,” she says, shaking her head. “But it wasn’t fair to try and stop her either. She’s still so young.”

 

And Kakashi braces himself for the pending defenestration, but he says, “She’s older than you were when you joined ANBU, Hokage-sama.”

 

She looks bleak. “I know,” she says.

 

Kakashi figures flattery never hurts, so he adds, “But you were also one of the legendary Sannin.”

 

“That’s just a title.”

 

“An earned title,” Kakashi says respectfully.

 

Tsunade rubs her temples. “I’m getting too old for this,” he hears her murmur.

 

He beats a hasty retreat before she does something truly stupid, like offer him the job.

 

*

 

It’s two days later when he finally manages to get to the hospital. He walks in to see Sakura throttling Naruto.

 

“Yo,” Kakashi says.

 

“Idiot!” she’s yelling. “You stupid moron, how could you do something like that? Don’t you have a brain?”

 

“Sakura…chan…can’t…breathe,” Naruto manages.

 

“I see you’re feeling better,” Kakashi continues cheerfully. She blushes lightly, but she clonks Naruto on the head before she lets him go. Naruto collapses in a dramatic heap on the floor, coughing.

 

“Naruto-kun bet Lee-kun that he couldn’t fold 1,000 paper cranes for Sakura-san in less than an hour,” Sai says, smiling pleasantly. “Lee-kun broke two fingers and sprained his wrist. Tsunade-sama says he can’t train again until he heals.”

 

“Moron,” Sakura mutters again.

 

“I won the bet.” Naruto’s voice, strained and triumphant, drifts up from the other side of the bed.

 

“The prize was a date with Sakura-san,” Sai finishes.

 

Sakura’s eyes snap in warning. She looks like she’s itching to hit something else, so Kakashi says, “Let’s give your teammate a little space, shall we?”

 

It takes nearly five minutes to usher the two of them from the room. Kakashi can’t help but admire Naruto’s ability to lug chaos around with him without even trying. By the time he sends them off and turns back to Sakura, she’s focused all her attention on her lap, picking at her blanket with aimless fingers.

 

Her head is bowed and her shoulders are slumped. He thinks about touching her to get her attention, but that seems a bit selfish on his part. He keeps his hands in his pockets.

 

“Does your leg hurt?” he asks after a few seconds of silence. “I could call the attendant.”

 

She shakes her head without raising it. It makes a little ball of dread start to roll around right in the pit of his stomach.

 

“You look tired,” he says, inching toward the door. “Too tired to talk. I guess I’ll come back la-“

 

She finally lifts her face. She’s fighting for a smile, but it’s wobbly at best. He freezes. “Yuugao’s dead,” she says. And then she bursts into tears.

 

No touching, he reminds himself as he stands there, motionless. “I know,” he finally says.

 

She just puts her face in her hands and cries harder. He watches the door. Maybe if he concentrates hard enough, Tsunade will hear his thoughts from three floors down and come running. He’s never been good at this part of the job. Asuma had been good with words, Kurenai with guidance. Kakashi had just never bothered.

 

“They got her first,” Sakura says between hiccups. “She just – she was talking, and she had a head, and then suddenly she didn’t…and there was blood everywhere, and I wasn’t even thinking about her when I was fighting, I was just trying to stay alive, and…”

 

Kakashi seats himself carefully on the edge of the bed. He doesn’t look at her face or at the tears sliding beneath her chin. They make her look too vulnerable – too small and too helpless and too much like his genin from six years ago. He studies her hands instead, clawed into the folds of the blanket. They’re covered in scares and cuts, marred by the remnants of broken knuckles and chakra burns. They’re shinobi hands, and that’s how he needs to think of her right now.

 

He can’t tell her it’s not her fault, because she knows that. He can’t tell her that Yuugao died in service to her village, because that never helped anyone. This is grief for the dead, pure and simple, and all Kakashi can think is that she’s lucky she made it this far without burying a teammate before.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said, muffled. “I didn’t mean to do this.”

 

“It’s,” he searches for the right word, “normal. The first time you see a comrade die in the field.” She doesn’t answer.

 

“Sometimes talking helps,” he continues. “With someone who’s been through it. I could tell security that Yamanaka Ino should be given access to this wing while you’re here, if you want.” If she notices that he doesn’t volunteer his own services, she doesn’t say anything about it.

 

Sakura chokes out a laugh that’s really half a sob. “God no,” she says. “Later, maybe. I can’t face her now. She’ll just try to make me go out and get drunk and flirt with some random chuunin to make myself feel better.” She shudders. “Later. Not now.”

 

Later sounds like a good plan to Kakashi. Never sounds like an even better one, but those are his hormones talking.

 

She presses the heels of her palms against her eyes, and Kakashi slowly sees her shoulders stop trembling. She wipes a hand across her nose and breathes.

 

Some women are beautiful all the time, Kakashi thinks distantly. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. Crying, laughing, fighting. Kurenai is like that. Tsunade as well.

 

Sakura is not. Her pale face is blotchy and her nose is so red it’s almost glowing. Her hair is hanging limply and her eyes are dull and she’s making ridiculous faces in her attempts to keep the tears at bay. He can’t figure out why he still wants to touch her.

 

“Is this what it felt like when Obito died?” she asks. Her nose sounds stuffed.

 

He never told her about Obito. He wonders where she heard the story, and if the person who told her had gotten the details even remotely right.

 

Worse, he wants to say. You’ll never have to carry Yuugao the way I carry Obito. You’ll never have to wear her death in your eyes, day in and day out. You’re not like me. You’re not meant to live for the dead.

 

But he hopes she never has to know that about him, never has to understand it herself. He simply says, “Yes.”

 

She straightens her spine. “Right,” she says shakily. She still looks teary, but he thinks the worst is over. That’s his chance, then.

 

“Well, I’ve clearly been no help,” he says cheerily. “Your shishou would be better at this. I’ll just go and – ”

 

She leans over and kisses him on the cheek, soft and light. He feels the imprint of her lips like it’s been cut into him. He thinks he might be blushing, which is embarrassing in and of itself.

 

“You helped,” she says, voice vibrating against his ear. “Thank you.” She smells like he remembers Rin smelling – some combination of flowers and antiseptic. It goes straight to his head.

 

“Not really,” he says, nothing more than a whisper.

 

Her forehead touches his shoulder, and he calls himself a dozen different names for wanting to tip her face up again and kiss her. She’s injured and she’s grieving, and only the worst sort of person would be picturing her naked right now.

 

That’s it. He’s going straight to hell.

 

He stands up abruptly. “I’ve got to go,” he says. “Meeting…er…about the…new…regulations…”

 

Either he sounds a lot more convincing than he suspects, or she’s just stopped questioning his excuses by now. She lifts her head and attempts another smile. It’s slightly more solid this time.

 

“Go,” she says. “Tsunade will be by soon. I’m not going to break.”

 

She’s not going to break, he thinks as he leaves, but he’s increasingly afraid that he might.

 

*

 

Sakura doesn’t see Kakashi for almost a month after she’s released from the hospital. It’s odd – the last time she’d been on crutches had been during Naruto’s lengthy trip with Jiraiya, when she was training under Tsunade. Kakashi had popped up around random corners to check on her, carry some paperwork, open a door or two. She remembers thinking that, annoying as Kakashi could be, he had a way of showing up when she needed him. For practical things, of course. She learned a long time ago he’s completely useless when it comes to emotional support.

 

And it’s not like she’s not used to him disappearing. He’d been away more than he’d been present during Naruto’s absence. It should feel like normal. Except this time around she sees him buying milk in the store, or speaking with the other jounin sensei in the tea shop, or reading his book in a tree. He always seems to vanish the second she says his name.

 

She has the distinct feeling she’s being avoided.

 

Then again, she did embarrass herself by crying all over him in the hospital. If anything is likely to send Kakashi running, it’s messy displays of emotion. She makes a mental note to punch him the next time she manages to get close enough. That should dispel any weirdness.

 

The night she gets off her crutches, Ino drags her to some bar on the outskirts of Konoha. Sakura’s happy to be free, of course, but she’s somehow loathe to go out and face other people. She’s done a good job insulating herself since Yuugao died. She’s not quite ready to break the protective bubble.

 

She uses her injury as an excuse. “My leg still hurts,” she says. “And I can’t drink with the pain medication.”

 

“Alcohol dulls pain, too,” Ino says impatiently. “And it’s a lot more fun. Come on, Forehead. People are starting to think you were killed in action and no one got around to announcing it.”

“I was in the hospital,” Sakura protests.

 

“And it didn’t do your complexion any good,” Ino says frankly. “Stop being lame.”

 

Ino orders her first drink for her – a shot of vodka. Sakura wants to decline, but Ino shoots hers like a pro and then lifts a challenging eyebrow. So Sakura drinks.

 

She realizes it for the first time: alcohol is wonderful. She’s been seeing Yuugao’s death in the back of her mind for a solid month now. Sometimes fuzzy, sometimes muted, but always there. But the vodka – the vodka makes it all go away, however temporarily. And when it starts to comes back, there’s always more vodka to be had.

 

She’s just swallowed her third shot when Kakashi walks in the door. He stops in his tracks when he sees her. There’s a new jounin seated to her right, whispering something in her ear, but she ignores him in favor of gesturing Kakashi over.

 

“Sensei,” she calls, waving wildly.

 

“Oh,” Ino says. “Look who’s here.”

 

They’ve had countless arguments over the years about who got the better deal, sensei-wise. Kakashi usually won points over Asuma for arms and abs, but lost just as many for being what Ino referred to as “weird as fuck.” Their competitions generally ended in a tie, but it meant that Ino had always been loathe to show anything but disdain to Kakashi, at least in Sakura’s presence. To be more than frigidly polite would be somehow disrespectful to Asuma’s memory, Sakura guesses.

 

Kakashi doesn’t seem to notice either way, and Sakura’s all right with that. She’s not sure she wants Ino hanging all over Kakashi, anyway. Ino flirts as naturally as she breathes, but the thought of her turning all that feminine energy on Kakashi is just…too weird.

 

Sakura makes room for Kakashi simply by flashing her admirer a pointed look. He flees. Ino turns her back in favor of talking to the bartender, and Kakashi slides into the now-vacant seat.

 

“If it isn’t Sakura,” he says. “I didn’t realize you were old enough to drink now.”

 

She cocks her head at him, considering. His face is placid, but there’s a wariness riding beneath the even tone. He has been avoiding her.

 

“I’m not,” she says. “I slept with the bartender, so he let me in.”

 

He looks at her sharply.

 

“I’m joking,” she says. “Why so jumpy, sensei?”

 

He looks her up and down. “You seem like you’re in better spirits than the last time I saw you.”

 

She grins, the alcohol-fueled, megawatt smile she’s been flashing around the bar all night. Kakashi’s expression doesn’t change.

 

“Cheers,” she says, and shoots another.

 

*

 

Five shots and one mixed drink later, and Sakura’s starting to regret coming out at all. It turns out that vodka doesn’t make the picture show go away at all. It simply stores it up for later, then unleashes it all at once on the unsuspecting drinker, with an added bonus of nausea to boot.

 

Kakashi drinks beside her, pulling his mask down just enough to sip. He steadily matches her, and then surpasses her when she starts to slow down. She’s not sure she’s ever seen him stay in one place for so long.

 

In fact, she’s not sure why he’s there at all. It’s certainly not to have a good time. He hasn’t spoken to another soul all night, save for a wave and a nod when one of his peers happens to walk through the door.

 

She dances with a few boys whose names she doesn’t remember, and she lets them buy her more drinks. Kakashi keeps his back to the dance floor and doesn’t say a word.

 

They barely talk at all, until she hears him say something about taking her home. She lifts her head from the bar top (when had she put it down?) to offer a feeble protest.

 

Ino’s face slides into focus. “Congratulations,” Ino says sardonically. “You managed to come out, get drunk, and still be lame.” There’s compassion in her eyes, though, and Sakura vaguely remembers peeling her off the floor of her own bathroom after Asuma died.

 

“Shut up, Ino-Pig,” Sakura mumbles, laying her head back down again. Everything is spinning.

 

“Up we go,” Kakashi says. She feels an arm come around her waist and another slide across her back. She leans on him as they start to make their way back toward the center of the village. They have no choice but to walk the streets; using the rooftops would be suicide in her current condition. Kakashi could try carrying her, she supposes, but she’d only punch him. Or maybe kiss him. She’s not sure at the moment.

 

“I’m sorry,” she confesses. “I didn’t mean to be so drunk.” Her voice sounds like mush to her own ears.

 

“I know,” he says quietly, and she realizes that he probably does. He’s probably forgotten a hundred deaths this way, dealt with a hundred failures, dragged himself home drunk night after night to read his books or brood alone or sleep with some –

 

And she’s waaaay too drunk for her own good, but she makes her brain stop there anyway. Arms and abs aside, she’s always kept Kakashi-sensei in the Strictly Sexless box along with her parents, Naruto, and the Third Hokage. She can’t let that change now, when she’s too drunk to be controlling her mouth and her hormones.

 

Her feet aren’t working very well. They keep getting caught on things like pebbles and clumps of dirt and, well, the road. He rights her every time she stumbles, though.

 

She turns her head to thank him, only to realize she’s looking directly at his shoulder. She tilts her head up, up, up to see his face, calm and easy in the streetlights.

 

“Have you always been so…tall?” she asks.

 

“Always,” he affirms.

 

“Huh,” she says.

 

“Anything else you want to know?” he asks, amused.

 

She considers, letting him pull her rather gracefully around a pothole. “No,” she answers.

 

She forgets about thanking him until they’ve gone another hundred feet. She can’t do it while she’s stumbling around, though.

 

“Wait,” she says. “Hold on.” She shakes him off to lean back against the nearest building, catching her breath.

 

She bends over and braces her hands on her knees, happy to feel something solid and unmoving against her back.

 

“Sakura?” Kakashi’s face appears in front of her, eye creased with concern. She realizes he’s crouched down to see her face. He has one hand on the ground for balance and the other on the back of her neck. He’s gloveless, fingers gentle and callused against her skin, and the walls of the mental box she’s always kept him in collapse like rice paper as she leans forward and kisses him.

 

She misses his mouth, of course, or maybe he just turns his head. She hits somewhere between his jaw and cheek, some combination of mask and skin that’s oddly erotic. The angle is awkward, and her balance isn’t all the great at the moment, anyway. She tumbles forward, and he catches her with two hands, presses her back against the wall.

 

She slumps back dizzily. His mouth is very close to hers, and his hands are bracketing her ribcage. Her face is burning – her whole body is burning – and she leans her head back and waits.

 

For a moment it almost seems like he shifts toward. He’s only easing away, though. “All right now?” he asks calmly, like she didn’t just attempt to shove her tongue down his throat. Like he doesn’t have a drunk, horny, eighteen-year-old girl throwing herself at him. She’s never had much patience for his bullshit.

 

“No,” she says harshly. She grabs the front of his shirt and pulls, and this time their mouths meet dead on.

 

He makes a noise; she feels the vibration through the cloth over his mouth. His thigh shifts between hers, and his hand cups her waist. He pulls his mouth away.

 

“Stop,” he says. The eye that she can see is glittering in the streetlamps, dark and hungry.

 

“Why?” she asks.

 

He drops his head forward, and she thinks he’s inhaling, smelling the skin at the curve of her neck. “Because I’m too old for you,” she hears him say, voice low. He sounds angry about it.

 

“That’s it?” she asks. “You’re my sensei. And I’m the Hokage’s apprentice. And we’re both wasted. And all you can come up with is ‘I’m old?’ Are you sure you’re a genius?”

 

“Sakura,” he says in warning, and she leans forward and puts her mouth against his jaw. He makes a little noise that doesn’t sound anything like protest, so she opens her mouth and lets her tongue dampen the fabric of his mask.

 

His right hand tightens on her waist, and she his left sliding up her side. She shifts so he’s just touching the outer swell of her breast, and his hand moves to cup.

 

“Take off the mask,” she says, lifting her mouth from his neck for a second. He smells of nylon and vodka and long hours in the forest, and she thinks she could inhale him all night.

 

He threads all ten fingers through her hair, staring down at her. His face still looks harsh, but it looks like lust now instead of anger. She’s incredibly drunk, and they’re both going to regret this later, but right now she wants this. And not just sex. She wants Kakashi, which is so weird to think about that she just banishes the thought from her brain.

 

She reaches up to peel the mask down for him, and he does nothing but look at her. The alcohol is making everything hazy around the edges, but she has enough time to process the shape of his mouth and jaw before he drops his lips onto hers.

 

They’ve already established how much taller he is than her, so she goes up on her toes to arch into his mouth. His arms are around her back now, dragging her against him. She can feel how hard he is against her stomach. One big hand splays against her hip, and she whimpers at the pressure.

 

His tongue sweeps her mouth again and again, and she feels herself thrusting against him in desperate little movements. One hand has worked up under a skirt, and she moans as his fingers find her slit through her underwear, pressing. The other hand is kneading her breast in a firm rhythm, and she thinks the friction might drive her insane.

 

Through the roaring in her ears, she can barely pick up the voices approaching from the next street over. Kakashi doesn’t even hesitate. He pulls her into the nearest alley and lifts her against the wall in one smooth movement. The world whirls around her.

 

He kisses her neck as he slides a hand along the underside of her thigh, bracing her with his body weight. His breath is warm and moist against her skin between kisses and nips. She feels her panties rip as he pulls them roughly aside, and then his fingers are right where she wants them, flicking over at her clit. She makes a wordless little grunt as he dips two long fingers into her, thumb still fondling her core.

 

She’s always hated her legs. They’re too stocky, too muscular – nothing like Ino’s long, slim ones. They’re the perfect size for Kakashi’s hips, though, perfect for him to fit between. He strokes her until she’s writhing, using the solid shelf of his shoulders to rub her torso up and down his chest, slowly riding his fingers. He strokes her until she comes, muffling her scream with three fingers across her lips. She clamps her thighs around him, bearing down as he presses, stretching out her orgasm. Then she collapses against him.

 

She can feel him panting into her neck, expanding his chest in uneven intervals. Slowly, slowly, he lets her slide down to the ground. She can still feel how hard he is, but he doesn’t seem inclined to do anything about it. He just presses his face against her skin, shuddering.

 

“Sakura,” he finally says, and his voice is thick with desire and regret and guilt and wonder.

 

Her voice is remarkably composed when she speaks. “Your place or mine?”

*

 Not hell, Kakashi thinks when he opens his eyes the next morning. Hell is probably too good for him. A little too balmy.

It seems right that Sakura’s apartment have a lot of windows. Her skin is very pale in the morning sun, and she looks exhausted. It’s not a bad exhausted, though. She looks like someone kept her up all night, doing naughty things to her. Which, Kakashi thinks, is exactly what happened.

He’s pretty sure he shouldn’t be feeling this smug. He should be feeling like the piece of shit that he is, and he convinces himself that as soon as Sakura wakes up the guilt will kick in. For now, though, he feels lighter than he can remember feeling for years. He’s been inside of her and he’s gone down on her and he’s answered a few of his own rather burning questions about her breasts, and he can’t bring himself to regret that.

He watches her sleep for a few minutes before he heads to the shower. There’s a fresh scar running from knee to hip from her leg surgery. He kissed his way up it last night. He licked every inch of her. He found every one of her scars, tasted every place she’d ever been hurt, touched every mark this life had left on her. He remembers his tongue tracing the swirled tattoo on her bicep, and the sound she made when he did it.

When he emerges from the bathroom, Sakura is awake, sitting up wide-eyed and panicked in bed. Her face is chalky.

“Good morning,” he says.

She just blinks at him with the shell-shocked look he sees on trauma victims sometimes.

“Shower’s free?” he hazards.

She’s starting to look a little green around the edges, so he attempts to pull some gravity into his expression. He starts to sit on the edge of the bed, then remembers he’s in a towel, and stands. She stares up at him.

“Last night,” he starts. “We – ”

“I’m gonna throw up,” she interrupts him, and runs for the bathroom.

*


“Eat,” he tells her.

“You’re not my father,” she says defiantly, and if he doesn’t know that by now, he’s even more fucked than he thought.

He pushes the plate of toast toward her, and she glares down at it. “I’ll throw it at you,” she warns.

“I’ve had a few hangovers,” he says gently. “Eat.”

She sighs, but she picks up the toast and begins to nibble. She gets a little color back in her cheeks after the first piece, and she manages to get half of the second piece down as well before she shoves the plate away again.

“Last night,” he starts again.

“Was a mistake,” she finishes tiredly.

He’s been thinking more slightly more violent variations of the same thing ever since she kissed him, but it still dislikes hearing her say it. He takes a bite of his own breakfast, chews. “Mmm,” he says.

“And it’s my fault,” she hurries on.

“Almost entirely,” he agrees. She looks at him sharply, but she keeps talking.

“And don’t think I don’t know that,” she continues, eyeing him suspiciously. “I was still upset about Yuugao, and I drank too much, and you were there, and…”

Kakashi stops listening after that, although he continues to nod. She’s clearly taken some time to plan the speech, and Sakura’s never been particularly fond of interruptions. It’s too early to get maimed.

“…and Tsunade would kill us both,” she finishes. “So…”

He must keep nodding for too long, because she narrows her eyes. “Are you listening to me?” she demands.

“Of course,” he says soothingly. “It was ill-planned. That’s a given.”

“And we obviously can't do it again," she says.

He likes hearing that even less.
 
“I’m to blame, too,” Kakashi says helpfully. “I seduced you.”

“What?” Sakura says, confused. “No, wait. I did the seducing.”

“That’s impossible,” he tells her gravely.

“What?” she says angrily.

“I would never allow myself to be seduced by my student,” he explains. “That would be humiliating.”

“You moron,” she yells. “Were you even there?”

“Are you suggesting you could…uh, persuade me to sleep with you if I didn’t want to?”

“Damn straight,” she says.

He gives her a patronizing smile. “I highly doubt – ”

She straddles him and slams her lips against his, thighs sliding across his lap like silk. She kisses him until they’re both breathing hard, fingers grasping at handfuls of clothing in frustration.

Kakashi breaks away first. “You have potential,” he says, winded. “Now, can you get me upstairs?”
 

*


Nothing stays secret for long in Konoha. Half the village knows what happened by noon, and Tsunade calls them both to a private meeting before twenty-four hours are up. Sakura is red-faced and cringing. Kakashi manages to stay expressionless, but only through years of practice. He’s pretty sure the look in Tsunade’s eyes would send the most powerful shinobi running for cover.

“Are you insane?” is what she opens with.

Kakashi opens his mouth to speak, but Tsunade silences him by tightening her jaw. “Not you,” she says. She turns her wrath on Sakura. “You. You’re his subordinate, and you’re my assistant. I expect it from Kakashi, but you should know better. How do you think it makes me look when you go and do something like this? In public!”

“We weren’t on the main street,” Sakura mutters defensively, and Tsunade kicks her glare up a notch.

“Not to mention,” she plows on. “He’s a jounin and a he’s a man, which means he’s already emotionally deficient. And that’s not even taking into account that he’s Kakashi. He reads Jiraiya’s books for god’s sake. Honestly, Sakura, what were you thinking?”

Kakashi clears his throat in case Tsunade had actually forgotten he was in the room. She barely spares him a glance, though. Sakura looks miserable.

“I taught you better,” Tsunade says sternly. “You’ve never been so indiscreet before.”

Kakashi’s on the verge of inquiring who, exactly, she was so discreet with before, but he wisely decides to keep his mouth shut.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“Then be more careful in the future,” Tsunade says. “You’re dismissed.” Sakura leaves, her shoulders drooping.

Kakashi stands in uncomfortable silence under Tsunade’s stare. She looks at him for a long, long time, and Kakashi is pretty sure she’s deciding whether his value to the village is greater than her desire to pop his head like a water balloon. At least he’s been removed from the short list of Hokage candidates, he thinks.

“If you ruin that girl,” she says finally, “I’ll pull your dick out through your throat and floss your teeth with it. Dismissed.”
 

*


Kakashi breaks up with her five times in the first month.

The first time she’s hurt, the second she’s baffled. The third time she’s angry, and the fourth time she just punches him. The fifth time he disappears immediately after he finishes talking, and she realizes he sent a kage bunshin to give the speech for him.

Somewhere between the third and fourth time, Ino gets it in her head that Sakura needs to find someone slightly more stable. Sakura’s just pissed enough to go along with it.

She puts on heels and red lipstick and a top that really doesn’t belong anywhere except in an Icha Icha novel. She dances with exactly three boys before Kakashi corners her against the wall outside the girl’s restroom. He fucks her in the alley behind the bar, and she thinks she likes it even better than the first time.

Because the thing is, it’s not like she’s in love with Kakashi. She’ll admit that he has a nice mouth under the mask and fantastic hands and he probably looks prettier naked than she does. And his voice has a way of turning her on, even when he’s saying things that infuriate her, and she’ll be the first to point out that the way he fights is really more like art than battle, elegant and efficient as it is.

All those things are nice, but that’s not really it. The heart of it is that he complimented her on her genjutsu when she was a genin, and smiled at her and told her everything was going to be all right when she needed to hear it, and sometimes she remembers how badly she wanted his approval when she was younger, so badly it made her teeth hurt at times. He was the first one to teach her about teamwork, with his voice throbbing low and steadfast. Kakashi was her first sensei, and something in her never feels quite right, never quite confident, if he’s not the one leading her team.

Kakashi lost Sasuke, she thinks, just like she and Naruto did. And it shouldn’t still matter so much, but it does. She and Naruto and Kakashi share that failure – they’ll always share it – and she feels better fighting alongside them because of it. She trusts them; like her, they’re determined not to lose even one more person.

Unfortunately, all of that doesn’t make him a good boyfriend in the least. The sixth time he breaks up with her, she just raises and eyebrow and goes back to making dinner.
 

*


Kakashi gets a lot of quality time in with Obito during the first month he starts fucking his former student. He refuses to call it anything else. Doing so would mean he’s made some sort of commitment to her, and Kakashi is selfish, but he’s not that selfish. He’s not going to tie her future to his. She has a long life ahead of her, filled with people she loves and battles she actually has a chance of winning – sex and happiness and friendship and all the things he’s not stupid enough to try and take for himself.

He starts making bargains, instead. A few more weeks, he tells Obito. A few more weeks of Sakura, and he’ll start coming to the monument three times a day instead of two. Just a couple more nights, and Rin will get fresh flowers on her grave every day for a month.

It’s a stupid game. Obito never answers, and it’s not like he has any control over it, anyway. He bargains with his time like it’s his to trade, like he can predict which mission is the one where he’ll come home in a body bag instead of on his two feet. He’s not looking for a happy ending, he promises Obito. Just a little more time.

Sometimes he thinks it would be better if his death came sooner, rather than later. Maybe it would be kinder to cut the whole thing off before either of them gets too deeply in.

Except he suspects he’s been deeply in for a long, long time without even noticing.

He breaks up with her just to watch her green eyes snap. It’s a warning for her, although it’s one she obviously refuses to heed, since she keeps taking him back. The truth is that he’s unable to walk away on his own power. He’s hers as long as she wants him, and his heart sinks while his dick does a little dance of joy every time she pulls him through her bedroom window and kisses him.
 

*


Sakura jolts awake to the sound of commotion on her balcony. She automatically reaches for the kunai under her pillow, but it only takes her a second to deduce that the visitor is no threat. It’s either a civilian or Naruto, she figures; no normal shinobi could make that much noise. It’s neither, however.

Genma jumps when she slams open the shutters. ‘It’s two in the morning,” she says dangerously. “What?”

The older shinobi blinks at her in surprise. Kakashi is leaning heavily against him, and Genma glances over. “You said you lived here,” he accuses.

“No, I said my bed is here,” Kakashi slurs with dignity. “I live across town.”

Genma detangles his arm from Kakashi’s, and Kakashi sways on his feet. He seems to notice Sakura for the first time, and he lifts his hand in greeting. “Yo,” he says with a drunken smile.

‘Um…” she says.

Kakashi rights himself, pats Genma on the back. “You can leave now,” he says.

Genma ignores him. He’s looking between Kakashi and Sakura, disgusted. “You broke him,” he says.

“What?”

“Ruined,” Genma clarifies. “He’s officially the most boring drinking partner in the history of Konoha.”

“What are you talking about?” she asks, baffled.

“…and Sakura’s hair,” Genma mimics, “and Sakura’s eyes, and Sakura’s skin, and Sakura’s bre – ”

Oh.

“All right,” Sakura cuts him off hastily. “I get it. Here, just – dump him inside. He can sleep it off on the couch.”

Genma mutters something that sounds a lot like, “yeah right,” but he shuts up when Sakura shoots him a look.

Kakashi reeks of alcohol – he must have been drinking for hours straight to get so wasted.

“You’re a mess,” she says. She sits him on the couch and he looks dolefully up at her.

“I had a dream,” he says.

“Did it involve my breasts?” she asks sternly.

“No,” he sighs. “Obito.”

“Obito’s breasts?”

“No,” he says, and he sounds annoyed, so she stops teasing him.

“What?” she asks patiently.

“He was alive,” Kakashi says, “and he yelled, and he told me to stop screwing around. He called me names first."

“Sounds unpleasant,” Sakura remarks.

“He always was an ass,” Kakashi confesses.

“So…how are you screwing around?” Sakura asks, not sure she really wants to know.

Kakashi reaches out a hand and cups one of her breasts through the thin fabric of her t-shirt. His thumb drifts over her nipple. “My…breasts?” she says.

He pulls her toward him, burying his face in her chest. He mumbles something, but she can’t really hear, given how tightly his mouth his smashed against her.

“Fuck,” he says, pulling away slightly, and she’s not sure if he’s cursing someone or just stating his intentions.

She thinks of all the information she could drag out of him when he’s like this, all the questions she has that he’s never answered. A hundred mysteries solved in one night.

She gets off the couch. He makes an inebriated swipe for her, which she avoids. “Water,” she says. “Or you’ll be sorry in the morning.”

She notices her hand trembling slightly as she fills a glass at the tap.

When she comes back to her living room, he’s stretched himself out on the couch. He’s too long for it, and he looks cramped. One hand is hanging limply off the side, and he’s snoring lightly.

She sets the water on the coffee table, takes off her slippers, and crawls onto the couch next to him.

There’s not much room, but she manages to fit herself between his body and the edge of the cushion, her head tucked underneath his chin. His arm comes up around her.

She falls asleep listening to his heartbeat.
 

*


The first thing Kakashi does when he opens his eyes is let out a long, painful groan.

“Morning,” Sakura chirps.

He shields his face with one hand, blocking out the light.

“What the fuck?” he says.

“You probably have a hangover,” she guesses in a sympathetic voice.

He moves his hand just enough to look at her out of a pained gray eye.

“Don’t worry, though,” she says. “I made toast.”
 

*


She should have known he couldn’t stay out of the hospital long.

A murmur drifts through the hospital mid-morning. A stretcher case coming in, she hears. They all know what that means.

Shinobi are proud creatures, Sakura has learned. Too proud, at times. They don’t like the hospital at all, if they can avoid it. When they can’t, they prefer to walk in on their own power.

And when someone can’t walk in on their own power, well…that means that it’s bad. Fifty percent of stretcher cases die before they get through surgery.

Another ripple runs through the hospital a few moments later, more hushed this time. It’s Hatake Kakashi, the copy ninja.
 

*


Tsunade’s eyes are very grim above her surgical mask as she wipes her hands. There’s blood everywhere. Sakura stares at her own face in the mirror above the sink. It’s chalky-white.

“He’s stubborn, at least,” Tsunade says. “If he makes it through the night, he’ll probably make it through the week. And if that happens, then he’ll probably survive.”

Sakura can’t speak. All she can see are the knives imbedded in his neck, his chest, his stomach, marking his vital spots, cutting his organs to ribbon. In her six years at the hospital, she’s never seen so much blood. His face had been very still and pale against the blue of the operating table.

Tsunade surveys her – her shaky hands, her shocked eyes. “You chose this,” she reminds Sakura.

“I know,” Sakura whispers.

“Go home,” Tsunade says. Sakura begins to shake her head, to refuse, to say she couldn’t possibly…

“Home,” Tsunade orders. “You can’t work anymore today, and you’ll be in the way here. I’ll call you when he’s in recovery.”

Sakura paces her apartment. She fidgets, she worries, and when she’s about to go insane, she heads to the training grounds to knock few trees down. Anxiety makes her unable to focus her chakra properly, and she smashes her own fist to a pulp in the process. She doesn’t stop until her gloves are soaked in blood and her cheeks are wet and cold from all the crying.

There are no messages on her machine when she gets back.

She tapes her hand, she cooks herself a meal that she doesn’t eat, and she curls up on her couch to wait.
 

*


Kakashi crawls his way out of unconsciousness very slowly. He hates this feeling; he’s had far too many chances to get acquainted with it. He hates the sudden snap of light and sound, the way everything’s sideways when he first comes around, the fact that he never know whether he’s dead or alive, or if all his limbs are going to be there.

The first thing he sees when he opens his eyes a crack is Sakura, sitting in a chair by his bedside. She’s in civilian clothes, and her hair is very bright.

Everything feels very heavy and slow in his body, but he manages a rusty, “Yo.”

“Yo,” she says.

“I guess I lost,” he says drowsily. He thinks it’s rather clever conversation, given his condition, but Sakura’s expression doesn’t change.

“Oh no, you won,” she says. “You gave Sai the distraction he needed to capture the target. The missing-nin is back in Konoha custody. Mission success.”

“Lovely,” Kakashi rasps.

She’s been reading a book – one of his Icha Icha novels, he sees – but she sets it down now.
“I’m going to ask you once,” she says, and her voice is steady, but her eyes look dead. “Did you step in front of those knives on purpose?”

At first, Kakashi thinks he mishears her. He’s still pretty groggy, after all. “Come again,” he says.

“Tsunade thinks you have some sort of death wish,” Sakura says, and this time her voice shakes a little. “I told her she was wrong, but I need to ask. Are you trying to die on me?”

And he’s been trying to show her for two months how utterly ridiculous it is to waste her time on him, but he never thought of doing it this way. He has an excuse now, a way to go about it, and he shies away from it like it’s made of hot metal.

“No,” he says truthfully. He hadn’t been trying to anything but finish the mission and get back to her. His last thought before he blacked out hadn’t been of Obito and Rin, but of Sakura, and how angry she was going to be if he died in such a stupid way.

He’s not sure which answer she was expecting, but the one he gives seems to lift all the weight from her shoulders. She picks up his hand. He’s too numb to really feel it, but he likes the way it looks – her strong fingers all wrapped around his bandaged ones.

“Move in with me,” he says, and then it’s out, it’s gone, and he can’t take it back. He does not say: marry me, have a baby with me, sleep in my bed, yell at me once a day. Those will come later.

He’s pretty sure he just threw the no-commitment thing out the window.

“Get rid of the porn,” she says. “Then we’ll see.”
 

*


“This is getting absurd,” Kakashi says, shoving a layer of soil and rock off of him.

“Then stop getting in the way,” Sakura says with infinite patience, pulling him out.

“No respect,” Kakashi clucks. He stands still while she checks him for injuries. She heals a cut across his thigh, and Kakashi watches with his Sharingan, mesmerized by the graceful swirl of her chakra.

“Where are Naruto and Sai?” he asks.

She squints up at the sun. “Uh, that way,” she says pointing off to the east.

“How far?”

She shrugs. “Two or three miles.”

“Meeting time?”

“We have an hour.”

“Perfect,” he says, and she looks up at him quizzically. “Leaves time for training,” he clarifies.

She shrieks when he pulls her back down to the ground with him, rolling on top of her. “You haven’t taken advantage of me in almost a week,” he tells her in an assessing voice. “I don’t want your skills to get rusty.”

“No chance of that,” she says breathlessly. “With such a difficult sensei.”

“Well,” he says cheerfully. “Let the session begin.”