|A Book of Five Rings
Author: Tintinnabula PM
Sakura has returned to Konoha, four year old, silver haired son in tow. She'd do anything to avoid meeting his father: last time she did so, she cried for days. They're better off without him. Too bad Tsunade thinks differently. KakaSaku KakaxSakuRated: Fiction M - English - Romance - Kakashi H. & Sakura H. - Chapters: 30 - Words: 222,835 - Reviews: 1,876 - Favs: 1,450 - Follows: 671 - Updated: 03-20-09 - Published: 06-11-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3588825
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Book of Five Rings
Chapter 30-- Megumi
"He's handsome, isn't he?"
This and the sound of giggling were the first thing Kakashi heard as he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes to the bright, sterile light of Konoha hospital's emergency unit. From the cracks on the ceiling and the patch on the curtain surrounding his gurney, he knew he'd stayed in this particular treatment bay several times before. There was a comforting, familiar feeling to the simple furnishings, from the chipped paint of the rolled metal bars on either side of him, to the yellowed plastic dials on the oscilloscope used to track his heart rate.
With an effort he sat up, only to be pushed down again by the nurse attending him. She shooed away the gaggle of nurses and first-year medics gathered at the door, after giving Kakashi an annoyed glare. Apparently he and his good looks had disrupted the discipline of the emergency department.
"Absolutely not. You're much too exhausted. Rest up."
"No. I need to see--"
"Your teammates are in surgery. There's nothing you can do right now." The blond-haired, just over-the-hill nurse turned away for a moment, doubtless in search of an enema or some other portable humiliation device, and Kakashi took the opportunity to jump out of bed and barrel past her and the cluster of overly curious nurses still outside, yanking the electrodes from his skin as he did so. Thankfully, no IV or catheter was hooked into him, although he was sure that if he stayed horizontal much longer both would be forthcoming. It always happened that way.
Luckily they'd left his clothes on, although it really wouldn't have mattered if he had been half-dressed, ass hanging out of his hospital gown. This wasn't the time to worry about such trivial things. Hours had passed. From the total darkness he saw when he glanced through a nearby window he deduced that quite some time had gone by. The sun had set only minutes before they'd left Grass, and the sky was still tinged midnight blue around its edges as he'd formed the final seals to carry them away from the scene of their horrible accident and to Konoha's hospital. But it was probably three a.m. now, considering the thick, inky quality of the darkness outside. The street lights had been extinguished for the evening and no sounds filtered in from the cobblestoned road below. The master of a thousand jutsu hurried down the hall lit intermittently by bare incandescent bulbs, clumsily buttoning his shirt as he did so. A sense of powerlessness overwhelmed him. He wasn't used to not being in control of the situation, of being unable to change a situation to his benefit. Acute worry accompanied this new sensation. He needed to see his family. He needed to make sure they'd made it through the night.
Kakashi rushed through double doors separating the emergency room from the reception area and then stopped short as he realized he needed to compose himself. He was breathing as heavily as if he'd run fifty laps around the village walls without stopping for a moment's rest. Kakashi inhaled deeply, then counted backwards from a hundred in an effort to quiet the anxiety welling up from some hidden place inside him. It wouldn't do to appear crazed: the staff might decide to sedate him and move him out of harm's way.
"Fuyuno Sakura and her son Tsuki-- can you tell me their condition?" The copy ninja managed to camouflage most of the terror enrobing these words, so that their delivery appeared merely urgent, not unhinged.
He didn't recognize the nurse on duty. And obviously, without his mask she didn't recognize him.
"I'm sorry, but how are you related to the patients?"
"She's my fiancee-- wife-- and he's my son." A white lie wouldn't hurt. He knew how particular hospital staff were about following rules to the letter, and he did not want to be turned away on the technicality of his marital status. They'd lived as husband and wife for months-- to be separated from Sakura and Tsuki because of the lack of a particular certificate was not something he could stomach.
The nurse thumbed through several files before locating the two she needed. Perhaps she'd sensed the underlying truth of his statement, as she didn't ask for any information to back up his claim.
"Both are still in surgery. I suggest you sit tight. We'll page you as soon as there's an update. Your name?"
"Hatake," he muttered as he turned away, not waiting for the inevitable reaction of surprise.
Sit tight? Did they really think he would be able to sit comfortably in a cheap, molded fiberglass chair while Sakura and Tsuki's lives were on the line? The copy ninja didn't even bother to pick up one of the dog-eared, hopelessly out of date magazines provided as reading material.
Instead he paced back and forth outside the closed doors to the surgery wing for what seemed like an hour or two. He glanced down at the linoleum underfoot, expecting to see deep grooves worn into it, either by his or others' perambulations, but the flooring showed no sign of his endless circuit. Its bile green surface gleamed as brightly as it always did. He realized he was like a dog tied out on a tether, endlessly walking the same circular path, with no rhyme or reason to support the action, only neurotic habit.
Sakura and Tsuki were okay―they must be. A glance at the clock told him it had been six hours since he'd arrived in Konoha, although he had no recollection of doing so. This was much longer than he had surmised. His wrist and palm were bandaged, and he didn't feel quite as exhausted as he had while tending to his loved ones hours before. Someone had taken good care of him.
Six hours. How long did surgery take? He honestly had no idea, as he was typically on the unconscious end of things when it came to his hospital experiences. But six hours didn't sound good. He imagined Sakura and Tsuki each laid out in an operating room, surrounded by the accoutrements of ninja surgery: mandalas, candles, and a room-spanning hexagram, with multiple medics assigned to each vertex. It took prodigious amounts of chakra to heal internal injuries, and in Sakura's case, they might even resort to scalpels, retractors and the other tools of civilian medical practice. She'd seemed in terrible condition-- bad enough that she'd seemed frightened. Her breath was labored, most likely due to the broken ribs she'd self-diagnosed. Perhaps she'd collapsed a lung, too. And then there was the blood. Too much blood. A fall against stone stairs-- even a prolonged fall-- shouldn't have produced such bleeding. Broken bones, sure. Internal bleeding, certainly. But an open, bleeding wound? It didn't make sense. Perhaps a rib had broken through her flesh, tearing through a major blood vessel as it did so. Or maybe she'd been wearing a kunai to protect herself in his absence. It might have slipped from his holster, and ripped into her flesh. That had to be it, he decided.
Kakashi continued to worry as he continued to beat an oblong circuit between the waiting room and the entrance to the surgical area, taking up each concern the way a monk from the Fire temple might handle the rosary wrapped thrice around his wrist. There was something almost fanatical in this pseudo-religious ceremony: each moment Kakashi recalled was an intricately carved ivory bead to carefully caress. He probed each detail engraved into its surface, memorized every nuance of grain, depth and texture. Kakashi ran through the series of worries in methodical, compulsive order, paused, and began again, matching his recitation to the rhythm of his pacing. At least he'd been there, he told himself. But he should have come sooner. He shouldn't have rested along the journey, shouldn't have stopped for water and tea.
But at least he'd returned in time to move them, if not early enough to prevent the entire scene from taking place. Yet the chidori had taken place. But he wasn't to blame--he couldn't be his fault that Tsuki had picked up that skill so fast. It would be unforgivable if it was his fault. No one could have guessed that a four-and-three-quarters-year old would be able to alter his chakra in such a way. Well, Sakura might have guessed. She'd witnessed plenty of other things during the boy's infancy, now that Kakashi thought about it. They'd giggled over the boy's exploits several times in the comfortable, lazy aftermath of lovemaking. Damn it. He never should have shown Tsuki that jutsu, not without teaching him the dos and don'ts of using it.
This was his fault, Kakashi decided. Ultimately, the trail of events producing this disaster could be traced back to him. He'd let his ego get in the way of fathering his son, allowing the boy's transparent adoration to influence his decisions. He'd sought to be admired rather than obeyed and to pal around rather than discipline. He'd fallen into the most obvious trap of parenting-- seeking to be a friend instead of guardian.
He wouldn't be able to bear it if Sakura blamed him for all of this. But he knew she'd be well within her rights to do so. She might never want to see him again or allow him to see Tsuki. What use would she have for a father who tempted his son to do reckless things?
Kakashi stopped short in his walking as his saner self clambered to be heard. He was worrying needlessly, he told himself, casting the beads of his obsession away from him and listening as they scattered to the floor of his mind in a haphazard clatter. He was assuming two facts not yet in evidence. Sakura and Tsuki had been in horrible shape the last time he saw them. Their very survival was currently in question. He should be thinking of them, not about what might happen to him. Once he was sure they'd made it through the night he could allow himself the luxury of self-recrimination. Should they live-- and they must live!--he'd willingly take his punishment, even the harshest one Sakura might mete out. Kakashi sank onto a slatted wooden bench, emotionally exhausted by the waiting and the endless dialogue of his id and super-ego. He slumped forward, resting his head in his hands, then tugging and squeezing the unruly clumps of silver hair poking up between his fingers. The small pain he felt as he pulled against his roots was comforting, a soothing though small reminder of what his loved ones were going through.
What would he do if even one of them died? His life would change completely. Kakashi imagined first Sakura gone from his presence, and then Tsuki. The effect of losing either was the same. Together they filled a hole that seemed abyssal. The loss of even one of them would be like losing a vital part of himself. He could do without an arm, or leg, or even his Sharingan eye, but he would be reminded daily of its absence, and taunted by the small things he'd previously taken for granted. So it was with his family. He had taken them-- all of this-- for granted. But now he would gladly give up a part of himself-- any part of himself, if that meant they would be returned to him.
Losing one of them would be beyond painful. But if he were to lose both of them...he wasn't sure if he could survive it.
For the first time in his life, the copy ninja felt the need to pray. He wasn't a religious man. He honored the dead, particularly his lost friends, and he believed in the will of fire that passed from old to young in an endless progression. But Kakashi didn't pray for favors. He didn't ask for good weather, or favorable fighting conditions, or any of the silly things that justified others' visits to the countless shrines in the village and beyond. He assumed life's events were based on chance, on random happenings beyond mortal control. Praying was useless, just a mechanism to calm oneself down, a way to feel as though one had the tiniest bit of control over the faceless universe. He hadn't prayed when his mother and father had died, or for Obito, Rin, Minato-sensei, Asuma, Jiraiya, or any other of the scores of friends and colleagues lost in battle.
But Kakashi prayed now. Something primal in him told him that this was the right thing to do, that if any one was listening, maybe he, she, or it would intervene. It wouldn't be on Kakashi's behalf, certainly, but maybe some benevolent god would consider Tsuki, with his delightful innocence or Sakura, with her beautiful, impulsive and temperamental personality. Maybe that god would decide these two were worth saving. Kakashi prayed to any and all of the ten thousand kami that both his loved ones would come through whole, that his son would walk again, that his intended wife would be healed of her broken bones and internal ruptures.
He'd give anything. Anything.
It wasn't that much to ask. He'd never asked for anything, of anyone. He gave and gave to the village-- his blood, his labor, his well-honed sense of right and wrong, and had never requested anything in return, apart from a place to live and enough money to drink himself stupid.
But now he wanted payback-- the smallest, meanest of gifts. When Kakashi considered all the lives he'd saved, either directly or through combat maneuvers and even by assassination, two lives seemed like modest recompense.
Please let them live. Please give me my family back.
He pleaded to some unnamed entity for mercy, to anyone who might listen.
Kakashi looked up to see Yamanaka Ino standing before him, paper cup in hand. She looked different than he remembered. At some point she'd grown into even more of a stunner than he'd recollected. Of course, she was nothing compared to Sakura. Like his lover she wore her hair down now, around her shoulders, but her cerulean eyes were as sharp as they'd always been.
"I thought I might find you here. You look a lot better than you did a few hours ago. I take it there was a problem with the mission. I heard Tsuki and Sakura are still in surgery-- things must have been pretty bad."
"You work here, right?" That was a stupid question. Of course she did. She'd been a medic for years, almost as long as Sakura, and apart from that she was carrying a white lab coat, not the most fashionable of garments. Kakashi accepted the coffee gratefully, taking a long sip of the steaming, black beverage. It was bitter and overpoweringly intense, a perfect partner to the events of the past few hours.
Ino nodded in response to his query, and shifted her weight from one foot to another, as though she were dying to tell him a secret, or pry one from him.
"You know," she said finally, "you shouldn't let your chakra run so low. You were on empty. It took three of us a good hour to get you back to a minimal level."
It had been Ino then, who'd done such a good job taking care of him.
"It was the least I could do after all you did for team 10 when Asuma-sensei was killed."
"Can you find out about them, Ino? No one has told me anything."
The junior medic hurried away, lab coat in one hand. Her shift must have just ended, Kakashi realized, and the coffee she'd given him was her own, picked up from the employees' canteen. Or maybe she'd purchased it expressly for him.
Generous, just like Sakura.
She returned moments later and handed Kakashi a surgical mask, a small incongruous smile on her face given the situation he was facing.
"She was right." Ino waited for Kakashi to secure the mask before continuing. "About your face. Her idiot teammates were sure you had fish lips, or buck teeth, or some type of disfigurement. But Sakura was sure you were handsome."
Kakashi didn't respond. Now was not the time to be thinking of times past. It was like Sakura, though, to assume the best of him. His mood brightened ever so slightly and he barked a strangled half-laugh. This was obviously Ino's intent. She was far better at interpersonal stuff than he'd thought.
"How is she? And Tsuki?"
"They're almost out of surgery-- that's all they would tell me. Someone will be here in just a few minutes to talk to you. Kakashi-sensei, she's getting the best care. They said Tsunade-shishou is heading up the team." Ino laid a hand on his arm in a comforting gesture. "Don't worry."
"How can I not worry?" His voice cracked, releasing the anguish churning inside of him like noxious vapors through a newly formed volcanic vent.
Ino looked at him carefully before continuing. "You're Tsuki's father, aren't you?" she asked cautiously.
Sakura had asked him to tell Tsuki, not anyone else. The receptionist didn't count-- telling her was a means to an end. But certainly Sakura wouldn't want him to tell the town crier, even if they were long time friends.
"I care about my teammates. I'd give my life for them."
Ino's brow furrowed. "I'm not the gossip I used to be, you know. Being the butt of jokes does that to a person. I care about Sakura, and I could read between the lines of the letters she sent me when she lived in Waterfall. She didn't describe Yuki the way a person talks about a lover. And she left so suddenly. You don't have to be Shikamaru to be able to put those facts together." Her face tightened for a moment, and Kakashi was reminded that like Sakura, this kunoichi had been unlucky in love. But at least Sakura hadn't fallen for a closeted gay man. "Besides, she told me she had a crush on you. And Tsuki―in her letters she said he took after her father. But I saw a picture of Fuyuno Yuki. Tsuki doesn't look anything like the man."
Kakashi sighed. Being around this woman was tiring, even if as she claimed she wasn't trying to pump him for information. He really didn't have time for this. He should be thinking of them, focusing all of his energy on them.
"She can't die," he said aloud.
"She won't." Ino shifted the coat she still carried to pat his arm again. "Take heart. They'll be out to see you soon."
"Soon" turned out to be another hour. He added this to the string of concerns he'd reassembled: how long did it take to clean up after surgery? Kakashi jumped every time the double doors swung open, and a small surge of adrenalin rushed through him as he looked at each passing medic's face, hoping for eye contact. The triple espresso Ino had given him made him even more tense than he'd been before. He considered pushing past the next medic passing by to get through the doors before they clanged shut with a chakra-enhanced seal. Apparently the hospital staff had thought long and hard about the security needed in a shinobi hospital, both for the patients and their worried families.
"Hatake-sama?" Kakashi looked up to see a vaguely familiar face, the only flesh peeking out from the white, hooded coveralls clothing his body. It didn't seem like the most practical clothing for a medic to wear, considering the working conditions typically encountered in their field. And the hood, with its bulging ear coverings, made the man look like some kind of alien explorer. This was hardly a comforting image.
"I have news." This was said with a blank expression and voice completely devoid of emotion, as though the Sai of many years ago had decided to enter the medical profession, bedside manner be damned. Or perhaps the man really was an alien.
Kakashi's knuckles turned white as he clenched the wooden rails of his seat.
"She's going to make it."
A wave of relief crashed over Kakashi like a breaker removing all obstacles from its path. The storm was over, he realized. The flotsam of his worries was about to be washed away with the departing tide.
"Most of her ribs are broken, and it took quite a while to start them healing. She needed surgery for her arm as well."
Her arm? He hadn't noticed, caught up as he'd been in everything else.
"And she lost quite a bit of blood. The child, though... I'm sorry, but we'll have to wait and see."
"The child? What? What do you mean? Where is he? I need to see--"
"That's not possible right now. The patient is still in the recovery room. She hasn't recovered from the anesthesia yet."
"What has that got to do with anything? Let me see my son!"
"Hiro, I'll handle this." Tsunade strided up, lifting an eyebrow of warning at the bearer of bad news. The unfortunate medic quickly scurried away.
"You can see Tsuki, Kakashi. He's resting right now." The Godaime led him down a well-scrubbed, if shabby hallway and silently slid a door aside. "He's on heavy pain-killers, so he'll probably be slipping in and out of consciousness. And you'll notice that we had to put him in traction."
The boy looked like he'd been chosen to test a medieval torture device: the rack, perhaps. His shaved head emphasized his frailty and made it easy to see that a strange, tong-like apparatus seemed to be welded onto-- no, inserted into-- his skull. Kakashi noticed a pulley and weights attached to this metal handle that hung freely over a bracket clamped to the head of the bed. No wonder Tsuki was drugged to the point of unconsciousness. He'd likely be immobilized and in pain for weeks to come. Apart from this major surgical intervention, one arm was also in a cast, as Kakashi expected, and the other in an immobilizing sling. At least these other injuries were run of the mill.
Kakashi slumped into the seat beside his son's bed and carefully caressed the boy's face, kissing his own fingers before touching them to the boy's rosebud pink lips. He couldn't complain. Tsuki was alive. That was what he'd asked for. He'd deal with any complications gladly, thankfully. He'd carry his son around for the rest of his life if that was what was needed. He hadn't lied when he'd promised anything to have the boy back.
"He was extremely lucky. You did well not disturbing him. He has a spinal fracture-- C3 vertebra. If you had shifted him, he'd likely be a quadriplegic right now. There's nothing medical ninjutsu can do when the spine is severed. We haven't found a way to regenerate those cells yet. Not even my genesis rebirth technique can do that."
"As far as we know, yes. We'll do some tests once he's more stable. Given the damage he's suffered, I don't think he'll be disabled permanently. But it's not going to be easy. It will be slow and painful-- almost torture." Tsunade narrowed her gaze as she stared at him assessingly. "So, care to tell me exactly what happened?"
"Kid stuff." There was no way Kakashi was going to tell the Hokage the truth, not when the Godaime considered Sakura the daughter she'd never had. "The mission was a success, by the way. Targets eliminated, trading ring decimated. I returned to Grass. Sakura had followed Tsuki to a local shrine. He was goofing around on a torii. It was the highest point in the village, and a storm was coming in. Sakura jumped to rescue him, and she lost her balance. I couldn't--" He paused to take a breath, willing his voice not to crack. "I saw them bounce down the stairs." Like the springy, pink rubber ball found in every toy chest. The image of his lover and son crashing over and over against the hard edges of step after step seemed burned into his retinas, an afterimage that time did not seem to ameliorate.
"Daddy." Eyes that reminded Kakashi of his own mother fluttered open.
"I had a dream." His words were foggy, as though he were half asleep. "There was beautiful snow falling. But it was feathers. I think a flock of birds must have lost all their feathers. Pink birds, beautiful, soft snow."
"How do you feel, tiger?"
"I'm sleepy, Daddy. And my head hurts." Kakashi watched as his son struggled to move. "It feels like there's something heavy on it."
The boy's eyes shifted downwards, and he struggled to focus his gaze on his blanketed body. "Did I break both my arms?" Kakashi nodded. The difference between a fracture and a dislocation was not worth explaining, although Tsuki did seem a little more lucid than he'd expected.
"Your arms are out of commission for the moment." Kakashi stealthily lifted the lower half of the thin bedspread covering his son's small frame, and ran his fingernail along the boy's sole.
"Ha! That tickles, Daddy!"
The relief Kakashi felt was soothing, like a cool rain at the end of a horribly muggy day. If Tsuki could feel his feet, chances were he'd be able to walk again. It might be a difficult recovery, but Kakashi would be there to help. Hopefully.
The copy ninja gazed apprehensively at his son, who had suddenly gone quiet.
"What's wrong? Did I hurt you?"
"No. Mommy's okay, isn't she?"
"Yes. I think so. I'll see her in a couple of minutes."
"I don't want you to leave."
"I...Don't you want me to check on Mommy?"
"That's...that's not... you're going to leave us, aren't you? We won't be a family anymore. I don't want--" The monitor beside him announced the boy's distress, the strident beeps emanating from it increasing in pitch and number.
"Tsuki, don't cry. I'm not going anywhere. I won't leave you, I promise." Tsunade hurried to the bedside to adjust the boy's drip, glaring at Kakashi as she did so. Disturbing the patient was not acceptable behavior-- he should know that.
Almost immediately the boy calmed down, as more of the potent analgesic flowed into his system.
"But Mommy..." His voice seemed cloudy, like something an impressionist might paint.
"I love your mommy. I'll fix things, Tsuki. Whatever's wrong. I promise."
"I want you to be my daddy."
"I...I want that, too.' Kakashi smiled as he ran his hand across his son's troubled brow. "Tsuki, do you think it's funny that we look so much alike?"
"Yes. Everyone in the Grass village said I was your spitting image. That made me happy. I pretended you were my real dad."
"There's nothing wrong with that. I want to be your real dad. I am--" Kakashi cut himself short. It was Sakura's place to tell him, even if she had given him permission to do so. And now that her son had survived, she might feel it appropriate to rescind that permission. She had dumped him after all, and she probably wanted nothing to do with him now that his incompetence as a parent had been put on display.
"Oh... That would be so nice. Daddy..." The way Tsuki called him that was so tender, so unlike any name that had ever been used to address the copy ninja before. "Do you think I'll have another good dream? With feathers?" Tsuki closed his eyes. "Did you see, Daddy? I did it! I did it...I made lightning and it sang." The boy's face relaxed into an angelic smile as he drifted off again on an opiate wave.
"I'm proud of you, son," Kakashi said quietly, although he was sure the boy couldn't hear him.
He felt Tsunade's quizzical eyes on him and willed her to remain quiet. Surprisingly, and uncharacteristically, she did so.
"Would you like to see Sakura now?" The two silently left the room.
"Why did he lie to me? That medic-- he said Tsuki was touch and go." Kakashi felt self-righteous indignation well up inside of him. Why would the man do something as cruel as telling him his son's life was in danger, when clearly it was not?
"Did he? That doesn't make sense. He wasn't assigned to Tsuki-- he wouldn't know anything about his status." Tsunade frowned. "What exactly did he say to you?"
"He was talking about Sakura. He said she'd lost a lot of blood. That her ribs were broken, but she was going to be okay. But that the child--"
Tsunade's amber eyes widened in disbelief.
"You didn't know."
"Know? What was I supposed to know?"
"She's carrying your child, Hatake. How could you not know that?" Tsunade looked at him with the distaste she typically reserved for flunkies.
"She what?" A wave of nausea overcame him as the Godaime's words sank in.
The blood. All of that blood. As she lay crumpled at the base of the shrine's hundred-odd stairs Sakura was hemorrhaging, miscarrying their child. How stupid was he not to have realized this?
"The baby-- will it live?"
"We don't know. The placenta partially separated from the uterine wall. That induced labor. We were able to stop the contractions herbally, and my team and I did our best to reconnect the blood vessels. But we can't predict what will happen next. She may go into labor again, or the placenta may detach. We'll just have to wait and see. The fetus is fine right now. It's vitals were within the normal range even while Sakura was being transfused. It's a tenacious little thing."
"How far along is she?"
"Eight or nine weeks. The chakra signature is strong. It intensifies right around now."
Sakura had known. There was no way she wouldn't know. A woman might miss the signs of a first pregnancy, but surely not the second. And a medic as accomplished as Sakura would know sooner than most.
But when had she known? When they'd made love that last time? She'd cried then, her tears a torrent of pain and anguish. But it wasn't solely because of the infidelity she thought she'd witnessed. Kakashi was now certain of this. It was because she was pregnant as well and faced with the specter of another solo pregnancy.
Kakashi entered her room quietly, unwilling to wake her, and surveyed the scene before him. Draped in a thin bed sheet, bare shoulders exposed, she looked like a reclining statue he'd once seen in an Earth country mausoleum. She was beautiful and unmoving, like a marble figure blushed with faint pink highlights and fine blue-grey veining. But the narrow tube taped under her nostrils and the IV line attached to her arm marred the image of a lifeless Iwagakure princess laid to rest, and when he approached her more closely and noticed her steady, even breathing the illusion crumbled, thankfully.
She was human, fully human, merely asleep--and he loved her madly for it. He loved her hot, sometimes vicious temper, her impulsive nature as well as the contradictory patience she displayed with her son, her patients, and even with him. Yes, she angered easily, but this only made her love more fully. One couldn't truly experience one without fully knowing the other. She was caring, loving and powerful-- everything he could possibly want in a mate.
And she was beautiful. Her hair fanned across the pillow like some exotic seaweed found only at the lowest of tides and in isolated places, and her lips, he noticed, were Tsuki's. The boy did take after her, if only in the most subtle of ways. She would be happy to hear it, and even happier to hear her son's prognosis was good. Kakashi's eyes lingered on those lips. He wanted to kiss them, if not with the forcefulness that would signal to her how much she meant to him then with a gentleness that promised that he would honor and cherish her forever.
Kakashi carefully leaned over her, mindful of her injuries. He half straddled her with a hand to either side of her face, and kissed her lightly. Then he gently, slowly moved his hands to touch her abdomen, and marveled immediately at what he felt. It was too early to feel any movement-- Sakura's abdomen was still as flat as any teenage kunoichi's-- but Kakashi could feel chakra, a tiny, steady pulse of chakra different from that which he recognized as hers. He brushed back his hair and opened his left eye. His Sharingan visualized the chakra more clearly: it resolved into a comma-like, pulsing blue shape deep within his lover's abdomen, connected to her by a branching, root-like network of vessels. This was the strong, vital energy of a future warrior, a fighter who would surely inherit the will of fire. He had nothing to worry about, he realized. This baby would not give up without a struggle. He would fight to be born.
Sakura shifted slightly in the narrow bed, causing the thin top sheet that covered her to slip away, exposing the bandages that fully covered her torso. They were wrapped tightly, he saw, binding her like an old-fashioned corset and surely restricting her breathing. That explained the oxygen line, although it was probably for the unborn child as well.
"I'm going to be a father again," he murmured as he gently caressed Sakura's belly. "But this time, I'll do it right. This child will call me 'Daddy' from the start, and he'll know what it like to have his father around." Kakashi grabbed Sakura's hand, kissing her palm before continuing. "And his mother will know--"
"Her mother will know." He'd thought Tsunade had left him before he'd entered the room. How very like her to barge in on a person's most intimate moments.
"It's a girl, you sexist pig. And you'd better be a good father. I'll have your head, otherwise."
He couldn't miss the smirk that crept across the Godaime's face before she turned away to exit the space. It confirmed for Kakashi that she'd planned this all along. She'd hoped extended proximity would bring him and Sakura together, and her strategy had worked.
"What will her mother know?" He barely heard the cracked, whispered words. Doubtless Sakura's voice was hoarse from intubation.
Kakashi gazed into his lovers tsavorite eyes, realizing he'd never seen any as lovely as these. "That I love her. More than I love anything else. More than life. More than myself."
"The baby is okay? And Tsuki?"
Kakashi nodded, happy to give her news that coaxed a small, relieved smile to her face.
"If you hadn't shown up when you did the baby would have died. It's a miracle that she survived. Your daughter owes her life to you. And so does your son. He would have died in Grass."
Kakashi swallowed the lump growing like a malignancy in his throat. Sakura's praise was hard to accept-- especially when it was his fault the accident had occurred.
"If I'd gotten there five minutes earlier, this never would have happened. Tsuki-- I never guessed he'd figured out how to do chidori."
Sakura shifted in an effort to sit up in the bed, but sank down again quickly, an expression of acute pain rippling across her face.
"Don't blame yourself. If it wasn't that it would have been something else. He broke his leg on my watch, remember? And when he was a baby, he climbed the wall of our apartment building in Waterfall, and heaven knows what he's done when my back has been turned. Kids are like that." She paused to gaze at him critically. "You've been beating yourself up about this, haven't you?"
"I was so worried." Kakashi grabbed Sakura's hand-- the one part of her he was sure had not sustained injury-- and held on to it as though he would never let go. "When I saw both of you lying there, I thought I'd lost you."
She squeezed his hand. "You saved us. Tell me about Tsuki. Did you look at his chart?"
"Er, no." Kakashi hadn't even considered doing so. It wasn't like he'd understand what was written in it. "Tsunade said she's pretty sure he'll get back all function, that he seemed responsive. He could feel me touching his foot."
He could see a cool wave of relief wash over Sakura.
"Is he in a halo?"
"Halo? It looked more like tongs attached to a pulley."
"Poor baby. He'll be uncomfortable for a while. I want to see him. I hope he's not scared."
"Until they can move one of you, I'll stay with him."
"Thank you. Tell him I love him, okay? Kakashi--"
"I should have told you. You deserved to know about the baby."
"No, Sakura. I should have told you. I didn't sleep with her. Nothing happened. Sakura, I would never--"
The kunoichi reached her hand out, as if to admonish him. "I know. I figured it out, eventually. After Karai told me." She sighed. "He's dead, isn't he? There was something good inside of him. It was very small and probably didn't see the light of day very often, but it was there."
Kakashi nodded again, impatient to change the subject. "Sakura--"
"I'm sorry for the letter I sent you. Before I even talked to Karai I realized--"
"Sakura, marry me. I'm not going to ask you again."
"I realized I'd take you as you are, Kakashi. If you'd let me."
"Does that mean 'yes'?"
"Yes." She chuckled, although this clearly was painful to do. "Tsuki will be happy. He told Susu he was going to call you "Daddy" anyway. "So how do you feel about being a father again?"
"It's hard to say. I don't think I have the words. Could I... may I name our daughter, since I didn't get to do the honors last time?"
Sakura smiled again. "Sure."
"Megumi. Is she a gift to you?" Sakura was trying not to cry.
"You all are. I treasure you."
Despite her tear-stained face, the copy ninja had never seen Sakura looking happier. Her smile was her son's, Kakashi noticed, the same small beatific expression he'd seen earlier.
"When we get out of here, would you consider moving in with us? I know it's my parent's house, but it's not like I grew up there. It's neutral territory."
Kakashi laughed. "Territory? I wasn't aware we'd be waging war. Sakura, I'll live wherever you want. I'm yours."
He wanted to say more, but he couldn't find the words. He wanted to tell her that she'd utterly changed him, that only months ago he'd wanted to embrace death, had seen life as a quiet hell to endure before the sweet, final embrace of death. That the quarter-life of a homeless, cirrhotic drunk held more appeal to him than a life spent whole as shinobi. But now things were completely different, and it was all her doing. He wanted to live, with her and Tsuki and his daughter. He'd changed because of Sakura, and he couldn't imagine living his old life again.
But since the words weren't there, he embraced her-- carefully-- instead.
"I want the butterfly clips!"
"Hold still," Sakura responded as she attempted to pull her daughter's unruly silver hair into two bushy pigtails.
Sakura topped the girl's temporarily subdued hair with sparkly plastic butterflies, and stood out of the way as the three year old spun madly, the long sleeves of her kimono flowing behind her like iridescent wings.
Sakura glanced at herself in the closet door mirror. The kurotomesode kimono she wore was black and fairly plain, as expected for a wife, apart from the hem which was decorated with a swirling cascade of autumn leaves outlined in gold thread. The garment was one of several extravagant gifts from her husband, the pearls she wore another. Megumi's kimono was not-- it was Sakura's from twenty two years prior, discovered among a treasure trove of belongings saved by her pack rat father. It was cerise, the perfect color to set off her daughter's hair, and scattered with fantastical butterflies of every color of the rainbow. The girl had claimed it as soon as she saw it and had waited impatiently for an opportunity to wear it. Today was that day-- her day of blessing at the Fire shrine.
"I can fly, Mommy!" Megumi climbed onto her bed and jumped, landing clumsily in the geta she was wearing for the first time, then running to the balcony window.
"Mommy! Mommy! They're coming! I can see them!" Sakura's daughter raised her arms as she ran downstairs to avoid tripping over her voluminous sleeves and Sakura hurried behind her. Thankfully the energetic young girl hadn't decided to jump from the balcony. She was a bit more sensible than that, one small way in which the daughter resembled her mother.
"Don't get dirty!" Sakura cried ineffectually as the child ran out the front door and into the road, eager to greet her father and brother. Sakura followed slowly behind, savoring the reunion scene unfolding before her.
Megumi leaped into her father's arms, pulled down his mask, and littered his face with sweet, sticky kisses. She was definitely a daddy's girl, and Kakashi reveled in the near-constant attention. Megumi was the spitting image of her father, even more so than Tsuki. She had Kakashi's anthracite eyes, and a juvenile version of his perfectly straight nose, although she was missing his dimple.
"I'm a butterfly, Daddy."
"I thought you were my pumpkin." He hugged her tightly and kissed her on the forehead.
"No, butterfly! See?" She flapped her arms wildly, her pigtails bouncing as she did so.
"Oniichan!" Megumi struggled to be released from her father's embrace, then circled her brother like a dog elated to see its master. "Susu is going to be a daddy! He told me!"
Thanks to Pakkun, Susu was reunited with Tsuki days after the boy finally left the hospital. In the intervening time, the dog had taken the cat home to his family (a generous act, considering his species' feelings toward their kind), where the feline had quickly learned how to talk.
Tsuki was limping, Sakura noticed, although this was barely noticeable. It signified only that he was tired. The boy had worked hard to recover from his spinal injury, but although minimal, there had been some motor damage. He'd struggled through it, finally regaining full control of his body. It was only when he was completely worn out that the scars of this battle were apparent. Due to his long rehabilitation it had taken him some time to make chuunin. Unlike his father, he didn't get there at age six. His promotion had happened only months ago, after three attempts at the exam. But the fact that Tsuki was likely several years away from earning jounin status was fine with both Sakura and Kakashi: they wanted to hold onto their son for a bit longer and had no desire to push him.
"Megumi-chan, I have something for you." Tsuki hugged and kissed his sister before producing a plain, flat stone, which caused the three-year old to wrinkle her nose in disgust. Likely she'd wanted something pink and covered with butterflies and glitter. Sakura couldn't blame the boy for not wanting to indulge his sister's love all of things feminine. He was an excellent brother, full of love for his younger sister. He was patient as well, despite her sometimes exasperating penchant for following him around almost everywhere.
"Oh. I thought it would be those purple shuriken you told me about." Megumi's lower lip pushed forward in a shameless pout that elicited a chuckle from Kakashi, and a sigh from his son.
"It's for skipping across the lake," Tsuki said. "Look." He rubbed the stone between his hands and handed the now glowing rock to her.
"It will come back to you if you call it." He laughed as his sister began to talk excitedly to the stone, completely missing the meaning of his statement. Sakura laughed as well. Megumi was as literal as her older brother had once been.
"Good mission?" Sakura kissed her son on the cheek and her husband on the lips. Kakashi didn't pull back immediately, despite the fact that they were standing in the middle of the road. Instead his lips lingered on hers, conveying to her how much he had missed her.
They ignored the groan of disgust her nearly eight-year old son made.
"I hope you're rested," the copy ninja murmured, eliciting a giggle from his wife.
"You're late, by the way."
"You said two o'clock."
"But you always add an hour of padding. So I'm right on time."
This was true: they weren't due at the shrine until four p.m. That didn't stop Sakura from harassing Kakashi a bit more. Shichi-go-san was a special day. It was just like him to procrastinate his return to the village, given that he hated to be part of a spectacle.
"Get inside and shower. Both of you. You stink."
"That's not a very pleasant welcome. Come on, Tsuki. She may turn the hose on us otherwise."
Sakura waited for her husband just outside the bathroom door, tapping her fingers on the door frame in a manifestation of her impatience.
"Notice anything different about me?" Sakura asked as Kakashi exited the room, clad only in a towel.
"Um, you trimmed your hair?"
"Idiot. I did that before you left. Open your eyes-- both of them."
Kakashi's towel dropped to the ground as his eyes opened even wider in astonishment.
"How far along?"
"Now we really need to celebrate. Think the kids can entertain themselves for a while?" Kakashi wrapped still-damp arms around his wife and nuzzled her neck.
"Stop! You'll ruin my kimono."
"I'll buy you another." Kakashi murmured, refusing to cut short his soggy embrace.
"Tsuki! Daddy's naked!" Megumi flitted past the reunited couple, giggling madly as she did so. "I can see his chinpoko!"
"Let's go outside, little sister," Sakura heard her son respond, a touch of exasperation in his voice. He was at the age where his parents had become an embarrassment.
"Tsuki? Are you dressed?"
A groan was heard from the room further down the hall. "Do I have to wear wafuku? Can't I just wear my uniform?"
"No," Kakashi answered. "This is a special day for your sister. Just like it was for you three years ago."
"Your kimono is laid out for you. Hurry up, we don't want to be late."
"You already said we were late, Mom."
"I lied. Now get ready. You, too." She picked up Kakashi's towel and snapped it at him, forcing him to retreat into the refuge of their bedroom. "Are you ready to be a father again?" she asked in a more quiet tone, once she was sure they were alone.
"Absolutely. Think it will be a boy this time?"
"Yes, actually." Although he loved Megumi dearly, Sakura knew that another son would be special to Kakashi. There was something important to men about fathering a boy child, an instinctual pride of ancient origin. The birth of a male seemed to reinforce a man's sense of masculinity, even when the child was the second or third son.
"What if he has pink hair?" The worried look that stole across Kakashi's face was priceless.
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Silly. Only girls in my family get that hair color. I'm sure he'll look just like you-- your genes seem to be a whole lot stronger than mine."
"As it should be."
"You're acting pretty cocky for someone who's hoping for sex tonight."
"Hot sex. Hot, steamy, pregnant wife sex."
"Hmm." Leave it to Jiraiya's heir in perviness to find morning sickness and soon-to-be-bulging belly a turn-on.
"Think Tsunade will take them off our hands tonight?"
"I'm sure I can find someone. If you behave yourself."
"I always behave myself. You look beautiful, by the way."
Sakura blushed at this transparent effort to ingratiate himself. Sadly, it was working. "So do you. Handsome, I mean." And he did. The inky blue kasuri-weave kimono Kakashi had dressed in contrasted perfectly with his hair and skin. He'd look like a movie star if he removed the mask he was now sliding over his head.
"Ready." Tsuki came to their door, also clad in navy, a smaller version of the man she loved. He held his sister's hand, and for once the little girl stood quietly, undoubtedly due to her adoration of her big brother.
"Well, then. Let's go."
The family clambered downstairs and stepped out into the waning sunlight of an autumn afternoon in a village that welcomed them as family. Sakura sighed contentedly. Her life was better than she'd ever imagined it might be. And she knew her family felt the same way.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed this story and/or supported its creation, particularly roxnroll, IcarusT, sayurinomoe, moderndayportia and leafygirl. Your edits, suggestions and all-around positivity inspire me to write more. My next (and probably last) multi-chapter kakasaku fanfic will be Mizuage (I want to be ready to start writing my novel come November and nanowrimo). I should be posting the first chapter of Mizuage in about three weeks (mid-April). It will be a departure from my usual stuff, as it will be a somewhat dark and unvarnished look at kunoichi life. Despite that, I hope you all will continue to read. Thanks!