|Kaidan: Ghost Story
Author: Tintinnabula PM
Winner of the KakaSaku Anti-Fanfic Fanfiction Contest. Kakashi meets up with his past and future on a rainy Halloween night. Her name is Haruno Sakura. KakaxSaku. Ages 18 and up only please. Lemon.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Supernatural - Kakashi H. & Sakura H. - Words: 11,146 - Reviews: 150 - Favs: 301 - Follows: 13 - Published: 10-31-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4628173
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The characters portrayed here belong to Kishimoto only, and are a tribute to him. No profit will be made, or is intended to be made from this work of fan fiction.
Author's note: This fic was written for the KakashiXSakura fan club's anti-kakasaku contest. Thank you to everyone who has read it, to those who have reviewed it, and to those who voted for it. I still can't believe it won first place.
I have tried to stay clear of unnecessary Japanese vocabulary, but there are a few words that were necessary to this story, to put Halloween into a Konoha/Naruto context. Hopefully placing these words up front will make their appearance less confusing. Thank you in advance for reading!
Hyakumonogatori kaidankai—gathering of a hundred ghost stories.
Onryuu—a ghost, usually female, that exacts revenge.
Yuurei—a person kept from a peaceful afterlife due to strong emotions or the lack of proper final rites.
Kaidan (Ghost Story)
He had nearly forgotten the day. Traveling had a tendency to do that to a person, and in Kakashi's case, day after day of skirting the roads and villages between Amegakure and Konoha had left him a bit out of sorts. A person could handle only so much trekking through a monotonous landscape of mud, brush and bramble before losing his bearings.
He realized it was Halloween the moment he stepped through the gates. Izumo, asleep at his post, wore a tattered pair of cat ears and his nose had been inked in black. Kotetsu was uncostumed, but a plastic pumpkin full of treats sat to one side of his clipboard. Candy wrappers bright as autumn leaves scattered the ground, a sure sign that the holiday already was well underway. Kakashi heard the playful shrieks and cries of children in the distance. Doubtless the Nara family had set up the house of horrors they were known for. Their wolf-man exhibit had given a young Kakashi a thrill, many years ago.
The heavy clouds scudding across the sky threatened rain, and the earthy scent of autumnal decay rose from the dampened ground to assault the copy ninja's nostrils. The shortening of days, the programmed wind-down of life's seasonal abundance—to Kakashi these things were simultaneously depressing and reassuring. They suggested not only an end to things, but also his small but real importance in the larger world. He had his part in this cycle, as all things did. All lived. All died. The end. The trick was to realize this, and make peace with it. Life was as it was. Then it ended: nothing more.
Kakashi signed the roster, scanning it for names of significant import to him. He'd said long ago that everyone precious to him was dead, but that hadn't been true for some time. He had a small circle of friends and colleagues that he cared for, and it was a deeply ingrained habit to keep tabs on them.
Things had undoubtedly changed in the two years he'd been gone from Konoha—he saw none of the names he hoped for on the list, not even when he flipped through its many pages. Perhaps they were on missions outside the village walls then, or still within. Either way, he hoped they were safe. Kakashi set the clipboard down quietly, and then walked down the cobblestoned main street of the village. He could check in with the Hokage tomorrow, after he wrote up his report. His first priority was to head home and decompress, then sleep like a dead man in his own bed.
The copy ninja did, however, stop at his neighborhood's convenience store to grab some perishables, as well as a bag of candy for the kids who'd likely be banging at his door later that evening. He scanned the shelves for the most objectionable sweets—something classified by most kids as barely resembling candy. Those horrible orange marshmallow peanuts might do, he thought, or perhaps miso or shrimp-flavored taffy. While chocolate would certainly be more popular treat, he planned to leave a candy- filled bowl outside his front door to avoid interacting with the night's bedecked ghouls and monsters. Placing the nastiest candy imaginable in said bowl would allow its contents to survive a bit longer. With luck, he'd avoid the annoyance of an incessantly ringing doorbell. While his concentration skills were superior, it would be hard to ignore the umpteenth shrill cry of the bell or the persistent knocks upon his door that weren't unusual for this night...
"Kakashi-sempai!" The copy ninja looked up to see the former Yamanaka Ino heading his way, cat ears perched upon her perfectly styled hair. Of course, she was an Akimichi now, and had been for some time. Marriage appeared to agree with her—she had the rosy glow of a midterm pregnancy. At least, he assumed she was pregnant. Women in the Akimichi household had a tendency to grow larger in girth with each passing anniversary. Kakashi wisely decided to keep silent about her size, and forwent the normal, obligatory statement of felicitations.
"It's been a long time, hasn't it?" Kakashi smiled under his mask as he noticed a very proud Chouji standing next to his wife. He was the image of his late father. Only the tattooed swirls on his cheeks identified him as the younger version of the size shifting ninja.
"You've heard the news, right?" Kakashi shook his head as Chouji gave his wife a not too subtle jab in the ribs.
"Mind the baby!" Ino narrowed her intensely blue eyes to glare at her husband, and for a moment the two communicated silently about what was undoubtedly a matter of some import.
Kakashi turned away from the couple, who were now urgently whispering to each other just out of earshot, and placed his items on the counter. Whatever the news was, he'd hear it in his debrief tomorrow with Naruto. That was probably it, of course. Naruto had been acceded as hokage only six months prior. Ino and Chouji were most likely assuming he hadn't heard about it yet, as Kakashi had been incommunicado for some time. Chouji worked in the aviary after all, and was privy to the source, if not the content, of all incoming messages. He would have noticed the dearth of messages from the copy ninja. Kakashi nodded in understanding as he considered the unlikely couple. The gossip queen Ino had found the perfect husband in Chouji. Here was a ready source of the information she traded in.
Kakashi grabbed his purchases and headed home, neatly sidestepping the now openly bickering couple as he did so. It was funny how life kept going, how people who were children yesterday were parents today. The copy ninja had purposefully stepped out of that pattern, preferring to remain aloof and divided from that facet of life. He had diversion enough in his books, in his solitary walks to the memorial and beyond, and in his daily ninjutsu exercises. When the need for a companion arose, it was easy enough to pick up a sparring partner.
When other needs arose, meditation typically did the trick. The clear alternative, being intimate with another, was too messy, both physically and psychologically. Bearing one's flaws, whether corporeal or emotional, was something he had no patience for. Through painful example, on the schoolyard and in the street, the Hatake had learned that it was always better to reject than be rejected. This doctrine of preemption extended to every aspect of his life. Therefore, the few times he'd been physically intimate with another, it had been purposefully one-sided. Money had changed hands, and expectations had been delimited. His mask remained firmly in place, as did the barrier of aloofness he'd built around himself years before. That way he wouldn't have to acknowledge the inevitable look of dismay that otherwise was likely to result.
An intermittent rain was falling as he turned the corner to his street, and Kakashi was pleased to find that the key he'd placed on the door's lintel was still there. He always hoped for the best from others, but despite this, his cynical nature made him expect far less. Perhaps it was a credit to the citizens of Konoha that an apartment could remain undisturbed for years, even when the key was left in such an obvious place. Or perhaps this showed a healthy fear of the more highly placed members of the community. Either way, Kakashi was glad to find the key. Breaking in was an easy option, to be sure, but the seals he'd placed on all exits ensured that this would require some effort, and result in property damage. His landlord would not be happy to replace yet another lock, or window, and Kakashi had no desire to rouse the man from his easy chair, due to the grumpiness that would doubtless elicit. The path of least resistance was best, Kakashi knew. Why bother to stir up trouble where none existed? Some might call that laziness, but the copy ninja referred to it as simple expediency.
His apartment was almost as he remembered it, though covered with the layer of dust one would expect after an extended absence. He probably should have covered the furniture, but truly, he hadn't expected to be gone for so long. The space was damp with cold, and quickly growing darker in the waning daylight. His landlord had gone to the trouble of disconnecting the power, Kakashi noted, though the gas supply likely was still hooked up. That meant hot water, but no heat—like most apartments, this one was mostly electric. A bundle of well-seasoned wood remained by the fireplace and Kakashi quickly started a fire burning and set a kettle on the grate for tea.
Yes, he liked his lifestyle, he thought as he settled by the fire. He enjoyed its planned stretches of solitude, and its silence-- so much so that the missions he took on were usually solo. That didn't mean he never wanted to be with others. Tenzou, Naruto, Sakura—he counted these three among his closest friends, despite the fact that he typically kept them at arms length. They tried to rope him in at times, particularly Sakura. Over the years she'd come up with an ever increasing number of reasons to include him in what seemed at first mention to be the silliest activities imaginable. Ice skating, cookie decorating, mushroom hunting and sing-a-longs, even a ridiculously old-fashioned hay ride: she'd seemed to have pulled these attempts at recreation from an antiquated guide book for the active girl. At first, he'd rebuffed her, but was surprised to find that he did enjoy the occasional get together, particularly when it involved drinking. Kakashi didn't imbibe, but it was extremely enjoyable to observe his trio of friends grow progressively more inebriated as an evening wore on.
Naruto was easy to egg on, of course, but it was Sakura who was most amusing when intoxicated. Her typical straight-as-an-arrow behavior relaxed considerably after the second drink, causing her to display a personality he found most intriguing, and far different from the persona she usually projected. She was demonstrative, typically punctuating her remarks with a pat to the shoulder, or an arm around one's waist. Or even a hug. Kakashi often found her draped around him as the evening diminished, but it was easy enough to deposit her, rag-doll like, next to Tenzou or Naruto. She'd snuggle up against either of them before falling soundly asleep, her light snores ultimately collapsing the facade of ladylike behavior she normally struggled to maintain.
But despite the pleasures of an evening spent with friends, an evening spent with a book was so much better. There were no feelings to consider, no inane conversations to keep up with, and worse, to add to, and there were no opportunities for another to grab his mask or to goad him into removing it. Books were friends without liabilities, and they suited him better than the warm-blooded variety.
Kakashi stretched, then resettled himself by the fire, holding his book just so to catch the flickering light. It was easy to get lost while reading—the classics had that effect on him, and Icha, Icha Tactics was nothing if not that. He sipped his tea, warming it up when he realized it had gone cold, and reveled in the perfect quiet of the evening. A steady rain beat outside his window, adding to the feeling of warmth he felt nestled on the dilapidated couch he'd pulled close to the fire, better to harvest its heat and light.
It took him a while to realize that someone was knocking, and even longer before he rose from the couch to answer the door. He assumed it was a child, irate over the fact that no candy remained. He had ignored it at first, but it was frustratingly persistent.
His neck was stiff, he realized as he crossed the room, and the fire was almost out. He'd obviously been hovering on the edges of sleep for quite some time. Kakashi glanced at the clock perched next to a sad, brown-leaved Ukki-san on the window sill. It was two a.m., assuming the clock was accurate. What type of child was trick-or-treating this late at night? He swung open the door, and did his best to telegraph a look of irritation with the small portion of his face uncovered by mask or hitae-ate. He found himself glaring at a skirt, however, not the face of a costumed academy student.
He redirected his gaze upwards and was surprised to see the familiar face of a drenched, shivering kunoichi.
"Sakura. Come in. How long have you been standing there?" Kakashi grabbed her arm to pull her inside and frowned as he felt her icy flesh.
"N-not so long. I was walking in the rain, and I saw your light was on. I was surprised—I didn't realize y-you were home." A smile fought its way through chattering teeth. "Lots of visitors tonight?"
"I wouldn't know. I did my best to ignore them. Sit here." Kakashi escorted the shaking woman to the couch, pulling it even closer to the now pitiful fire, before running to the bathroom to start the shower.
He hurried back to her, anxious about her condition. He should have answered the door sooner. How long had she been knocking? Her hair, longer than he remembered, was dripping, her clothes plastered tightly against her skin. Even her shoes were sodden. Her figure was slight, her wrists small enough that he could easily touch his thumb to forefinger as they encircled it. He hadn't realized she was so petite. She'd always radiated brute strength despite her small stature. But not now. Now she seemed vulnerable, almost…lost.
What was he doing, mulling over such things at a time like this?
"Strip," he said authoritatively as he escorted her to the now steaming bathroom, dropping a bundle of terrycloth next to her, before turning away. "Do you need help?" he offered after a moment.
"Y-yes. I can't seem to undo these buttons." He turned to see her hair lifted to expose her neck. Kakashi quickly unfastened the buttons and eased the soaked shirt from her alabaster shoulders. They were not only as white as that rock, but stone cold, as well.
"Can you manage the rest?"
"I think so," she said through chattering teeth, though it was obvious to Kakashi that she could not.
"I won't look. You really need to get out of those clothes as soon as possible."
"What would possess you to go out walking on a night like this without umbrella or coat? Sakura, you're not even wearing a sweater. A medic should know better." She was still attached to the same type of outfit she'd worn as chuunin, he noticed—red sleeveless top, now buttoned, not zippered, but completely inappropriate for the month of October, and short, pleated skirt over a pair of practical shorts. Funny how some things remained the same. She looked barely older than sixteen, although she was at least twenty by now.
Sakura shrugged at these reproving comments, then turned away slightly to peel off her shirt. She couldn't manage the zipper on the skirt, so Kakashi tugged at it while steadfastly ignoring the curve of her hip just below his hands and the curves just above them. Instead he directed his gaze toward a grubby spot on the billowing shower curtain.
"It's warm now. Turn up the heat once you're accustomed. It wouldn't be a good idea to change your body temp too quickly."
"I k-know. Thanks."
He left the room and tended to the fire, adding the largest log he could find to the embers of the earlier blaze, and helping it along with a modest serving of goukakyu no jutsu.
Sakura returned on her own, a bit sooner than he would have liked. It took a lot of heat to bring up one's core temperature, Kakashi knew, having experienced hypothermia himself. The cold was tricky, lulling one into a state of comfortable sleepiness as it shut down the body. Sakura had been pretty far gone, in his opinion. How long must she have stood in the autumn rain to chill herself to that degree?
She was drowning, he noticed, in the oversized bathrobe he'd laid out for her, her hair, damp and darkened to cerise, resembling blood against the pure white fabric of the robe. He pushed the macabre image from his mind.
Kakashi strode into the kitchen to find a mug, and returned to the living room to see her sipping from his own. Her hands were wrapped securely around the large ceramic vessel, drinking in the heat it offered. He noticed a bit of color had returned to her cheeks. That was good. She'd been deathly pale when she appeared at this door. She seemed to be recovering and this pleased him.
"Do you often walk in the rain?"
"Yes, actually." She lifted the steaming beverage to her lips and drank slowly. "It's been a habit of mine for a while."
"Funny." He sat down beside her on the sagging couch, and wasn't saddened when he found himself inadvertently sliding closer. She could still use his body heat, after all. Her body would take some time to recover. "I never would have thought you the type to take lonely walks. You've always been too busy for things like that."
"That's true." She was silent, then, but Kakashi could see that she was weighing the cost of elaborating further.
"I had an object in mind." She went quiet again, and Kakashi decided not to press her. Sakura eventually would tell him her thoughts, if that was what she really wanted.
And she did.
"I'm glad you were home tonight. I've wanted to talk to you for the longest time. It was so lucky to find you here this evening."
He looked at her quizzically. She seemed more subdued than the Sakura he remembered. And while she had often been eager to share his company, she'd never conveyed such urgency before.
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
"Oh?" That explained it. "Mission? For how long?"
She looked away. "I can't say. So I wanted to make sure I saw you before I left. I…" She took a breath before continuing. "I've been walking past your house every night for quite some time now. I thought maybe you were gone, but then I realized that couldn't be true."
"You would have heard."
"Right. I would have known." She smiled. "I didn't think I would see you again. I'm so happy…"
Her small smile warmed him.
"What did you think of Naruto taking over as Hokage?" He was sure this topic of conversation would draw her out of herself, and show him the vibrant, laughing kunoichi he knew so well.
Sakura was quiet for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. "Well, he's nothing like my shishou. It's good to know she's at peace. But Naruto is doing well. He works late so many nights—Hinata worries about him." Then she chuckled, its three note melody conveying the pleasure she felt. "He was always driven—it's interesting to see him focused on something other than kicking Sasuke's ass."
Her eyes had lost that far-away look they had always held when talking about the Uchiha. She'd clearly gotten over the loss. Again, it was interesting to see how time changed a person. Sakura didn't look much different from the last time he'd seen her, but she had grown in other ways. She was more sedate, more settled, and less perturbed by events outside her sphere of influence. She was, he realized, a lot more like him-- an observer, not an interactor.
She shivered, despite being huddled inside the blanket-like robe he'd provided for. He reached tentatively for her hand and was surprised to find it still was quite cold. He immediately stood and began removing his clothes.
"Get up," he demanded as he did so, "and give me that." She passed him the blanket he'd laid across her lap and he efficiently smoothed it across the back of the couch before turning to her. "I'm not going to have you freeze to death on my watch, Miss Haruno."
"What are you doing?" She looked at him quizzically, but without the shock or reserve he was used to seeing.
"Making sure you're warm. Your clothes are insulating you—you won't warm up without direct contact. Come here." He lay down on the couch, clad only in briefs and mask, and directed her to lie atop him. "You can share my body heat." His lips twisted into a wry half smile, though this expression could not be discerned through his mask. "I'll be a gentleman, promise. Open your robe." He tugged at the sash until its knot released and fabric parted, allowing her flesh to press directly against his. He then covered them both with the blanket he'd draped across the couch back.
"Better?" He said after a few minutes.
"You do seem to be warming up a bit." He allowed himself the luxury of reveling both in the perfect silence that ensued, and the near perfect embrace of her flesh against his. Pity that he couldn't feel her breath against his neck, but the dark blue fabric he still wore prevented that.
"Yes, Sakura?" Her face was buried against his shoulder, and her voice was quiet enough that he had to strain to listen.
"There's something I've wanted to tell you."
"Do you remember a few Halloweens ago? Tenzou took us on a hike in the woods."
"Sure." He'd done his best to get out of that trip, but the younger ANBU captain had been prepared for Kakashi's likely excuses, proving them lies, one by one, with characteristically annoying patience.
"I was so excited to be doing something different for Halloween. You guys never wanted to do anything but sit around and drink. Well, not you, but the rest of them. You always spent the evening scaring off the trick-or-treaters. So when Tenzou built a cabin in the woods, I was beside myself."
"I noticed." He'd never seen someone so happy about a silly, imported holiday.
"And when we went inside, the main room was filled with candles."
"I remember. He'd set it up for Hyakumonogatori kaidankai." The hundred candles were arranged in a circle, as a ward against the spirits, and an oil lamp and shallow bowl of water stood in each corner. Tenzou had urged them to sit down quickly to avoid giving any ghosts a reason to enter. He'd worn his scary face, Kakashi remembered, though he still didn't understand why his kohai referred to it as such.
"Do you remember the story you told?"
"Uh huh. The Woman in the Mask." Kakashi chuckled. "You hadn't heard that one before, had you? Your eyes were big as lanterns by the time I finished."
"The worst part was that you didn't explain how to get her to stop chasing you. I found out later that all you had to do was say, "You're ordinary," when she showed you her face and asked if she was beautiful."
Kakashi grinned under his own mask as he savored the memory. "But that would have ruined the story."
"I was so worried. For weeks I was sure someone was following me, and whenever I saw a surgical mask, I freaked out."
He laughed again. "I'm assuming that was pretty often, considering your workplace."
"It was so embarrassing. A new nurse started just around that time, and she was close to the description of the kuchisake onna-- dark curly black hair, dead white skin, blue eyes, long, red-painted nails. I was so rude to her the first time I saw her. I nearly slapped a sutra across her forehead."
"Why were carrying wards around with you?"
She shifted above him. "Just in case," she giggled. "Besides, you gave me the idea."
Kakashi laughed uneasily. The feeling of Sakura's body vibrating against him in laughter wasn't one he'd considered when he'd ordered her to lie atop him. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea. He quickly mapped out the easiest way to reposition her to lie beside and not on him, but reconsidered when she stopped moving. He was a master of self-control, after all. He could weather a little unanticipated movement.
"And then Naruto told his story, and it made me really angry, because it wasn't a kaidan at all. It was a story about a drifting classroom that he'd read in some frigging manga. He wasn't taking the holiday seriously enough. I nearly clocked him."
Kakashi contrasted Sakura's past actions with her current self. The woman pressed against him seemed anything but the violent type. But that Sakura had given Naruto more than his fair share of bruises and concussions over the years. It had been comical, really, to see the slim kunoichi trounce Konoha's great hope time and again. The chuckle gathering in Kakashi's throat threatened to erupt into a full-blown guffaw.
"I know. I had to hold you back. Don't you remember? And he didn't even tell it very well. But Tenzou got him back, didn't he? Although that wasn't a kaidan, either, now that I think about it." The sight of Naruto retching at the thought of a stomach full of breeding cockroaches still brought a wide, satisfied smile to the copy ninja's visage. He could still envision the wild look of fear on the jinchuuriki's face as he considered the unsanitary conditions of his own kitchen. Naruto had begged Sakura to tell him that the story was only an urban legend, but she'd refused to do so, doubtlessly ignoring everything she'd learned about human digestion as she embroidered on Tenzou's story.
"Do you remember what came next? Sai's story?" Sakura's gaze was expectant.
Kakashi had been surprised Sai was included in their small party, as it was usually just the four of them, but apparently Sakura had considered the socially maladapted ninja a project at that time. "He told the story of Oiwa. You hadn't ever heard it, had you?"
Perhaps it was Sai's lack of emotion that gave him such credibility when it came to telling ghost stories. Whatever the reason, Kakashi had felt his hair stand on end, and his skin tighten into gooseflesh as Sai retold the classic story of a woman scorned. As in the original, Oiwa had been poisoned by a ne'er do well husband. She was then crucified against a plank door and thrown into a nearby lake. Sai had updated the story, however, and had taken their current location into account when describing the details of the husband's haunting. That man, Iuemon, had seen signs of his dead wife everywhere—he found piles of her hair on his pillow each morning, and her face greeted him from every mirror, window or calm body of water he glanced upon.
Sai had described the onryuu in excruciating detail, down to the rotting eye hanging limply from her socket and the skin tinged blue from cyanide. Worse, he worked Tenzou's cabin into the story, comparing it to the rusticated lodging that took on Oiwa's attributes. The thick vines covering its walls were the same as the ones that became her hair, and the room's many candles were sure to bear an image of her face in their flickering flames, if his teammates looked closely enough.
Then Sai, never one to know when enough was enough, had gone one step further. He pulled scroll and brush from his pack and quickly brought to life a sumi-e version of the hideous demon ghost, Oiwa.
Sakura had screamed a throaty cry of true terror and had run from the room. Kakashi had chased after her, after scolding Sai for his continuing lack of social skills, and found a crying Sakura huddled in the corner of the small sleeping quarters assigned to her.
"You were so considerate that night." Her voice was soft with the warmth of the memory. "You didn't have to stay with me, but you did." She lifted herself onto her forearms, giving Kakashi an unanticipated view of her cleavage. He quickly directed his gaze upward, to meet her own expressive eyes as she continued to speak.
"I don't think I ever thanked you for doing that."
"You didn't need to. That's what friends do."
"You even put up ofuda."
Kakashi chuckled as he remembered hastily scrawling words of benediction upon a flyleaf torn from the back of his beloved novel. "Well, as I'm not a monk, they probably didn't do much good."
"But they did. It's the intent that matters, you know. You kept me safe. That was…" her voice trailed off, and Kakashi realized they'd reached the heart of the discussion.
If nothing else, he was a patient man. Some might call it lazy, but they were wrong. There was no good in rushing in unnecessarily. It never had the intended effect.
"I… I realized something that evening," she continued after a long pause. "It was the first time I ever saw you as a person. You had been teacher, and sempai after that, but not a real person."
"Not a friend?" His voice betrayed the dismay he felt. He'd thought them closer than that.
"I mean, I saw you as a man."
"Ah." He didn't like where this was going.
Sakura sighed. "I can tell by your voice that you don't want to hear this. But I need to tell you. I promised myself I would, that I'd tie up loose ends."
"Go on, then," he said quietly. He fully understood the need to have closure before leaving on a high-ranked mission. The fact that she was silent about this mission's details suggested it was life-threatening. He'd been in her current situation many times, and had suffered the consequences of leaving things undone and unsaid. He hadn't made things right with his mother, and had returned home to find her dead. He'd put off needed talks with Asuma and countless others, as well. He wouldn't deny Sakura a conversation it was clear she needed to have.
"That evening, when you held me, I got a glimpse into the type of person you really are. It was as though you weren't wearing your mask—I saw you for the first time. And…"
"That's when I started to fall in love with you, I think."
He should have seen this coming. The many times she'd hugged him, the drunken evenings where she'd leaned against him—always him. The offer, after offer to get together for dinner, or lunch, or a movie, always unthreateningly, always as part of a group. But never without him—he was always a part of her plans, although he'd often backed out. She'd been in love with him all that time. How could he not have noticed, and put a stop to it?
Sometimes his ignorance of the niceties—or even the broadest aspects-- of human relationships appalled him.
"You don't have to say anything. I know that you don't return my feelings."
"I see things more clearly than before. I understand who you are now. I know how you want to live your life—you're not lonely being alone. .It took me a long time to realize that there are different roads to happiness, and that not all of us need to be in love to be happy. You are happy, aren't you?"
Kakashi nodded. He was happy being the loner, being a fortress unto himself. Happy enough.
"I don't expect you to reciprocate my feelings. But I haven't been able to sleep. Selfish or not, that's why I needed to tell you. I know it's an imposition. Will you forgive me?"
She turned her face aside, but not before Kakashi noticed the shine in her eyes.
Not tears. Please.
He'd didn't think he could handle that.
"I should be going." She attempted to roll off the couch, but he caught her and held her tightly in his arms.
"You can't leave. Your clothes are wet, and I don't have a dryer." He glanced at the bundle on the floor. "I haven't even hung them up yet." Kakashi rubbed his hand against her back before continuing. "Besides, you're still not warm enough, and the rain hasn't let up." He looked at her hopefully. "So stay, Sakura. Stay."
She didn't move, and Kakashi relaxed the arm that held her tightly against him. Her long limbs soon intertwined with his own, and he felt inside him the tranquility that flowed from her. .
He shouldn't have done what happened next.
"Sakura? Close your eyes."
Kakashi pulled down his mask and touched his lips to hers lightly. She startled, but didn't recoil. Carefully he deepened the kiss, marveling at the satin texture of her lips. He broke the kiss when he felt a gathering tension in his core. It wouldn't be right to go further—not when she'd made her feelings so clear to him, and not when his feelings were so different.
He quickly replaced the mask before directing Sakura open her eyes.
"I'd give you my bed, but I'm sure the room's still cold. The heat won't be turned on until tomorrow.
"Would you stay with me? It's only for a few hours. I'm leaving at dawn."
The look in her eyes was the same one he'd seen years before at that cabin in the woods, a look full of longing and sadness that was impossible to refuse. Still, this was wrong…
"I don't know that I can-- I shouldn't have kissed you. I'm sorry."
Her smile was angelic. "Don't be. I've wanted to do that for so long. Now I have. I wanted it as much as you did." She giggled. "Probably more."
It happened then. Her hand reached for his mask, and he didn't brush her away. Instead, he lay unbreathing as she slowly revealed his face.
"This is why you keep it covered, isn't it?" There was no judgment in her voice as she traced her finger along the red scar that ran erratically from nostril to lip, a scar that had refused to fade, despite its long existence. Nonetheless, Kakashi exhaled slowly as he waited for the inevitable remark, his eyes wary, body rigid. She was a medic, true, so her comments would probably be couched more tactfully than those he had heard in the past. She wouldn't say "hare," as his childhood neighbors had. She'd use the more appropriate "cleft," as in "lip," or "palate". But she surprised him. Sakura said nothing of the fissure that once had divided his face, and nothing more about the meandering scar that still remained. Instead, she brushed her lips against it, seemingly blessing his childhood disfigurement, and he was lost.
He hadn't slept with enough women to be able to rate them objectively. Despite this, he knew that this experience was different. Each touch of her hands was a revelation to his senses and each time he touched her flesh he felt an electricity different from chidori or raikiri, but equally devastating.
He savored every gentle caress, every touch of her lips against him. He admired the perfection of her curves as she slipped from her robe to expose, completely, her fire-lit body to him. And he didn't refuse when she removed his last pieces of clothing, so that he was as naked as she. He quickly soothed the last vestiges of conscience still prickling him. She wanted this, it was clear, and so did he. He ran his hands across her translucent, almost opaline skin, still cool to the touch, but no longer deathly cold, and shivered himself as a jolt of adrenaline shot through his limbs. Her presence was intoxicating and invigorating at the same time. He longed to kiss every square centimeter of her. She laughed at the suggestion, and eagerly offered herself to him. Her skin was sweet, but salty, which made him laugh. He'd rarely seen her perspire when they'd trained.
He felt engulfed by her presence, soothingly surrounded by the feeling of quiet joy she emanated. Then she did envelop him, taking him deeply into herself, and he was half certain he had died. This was pure pleasure, but something more, besides. This was what was like to be truly loved by another. Her love was all encompassing, and as tangible as the body that caressed him fully.
He wanted more, he found, wanted to be truly one with her. He pulled her closer, thrusting ever deeper inside, encouraged by her cries of delight and her exhortations for him to join in her bliss. He'd never seen a woman climax so powerfully, never felt a body so sensitive to his every touch. In the dimming light of the fire she seemed ethereal, her porcelain skin appearing to glow with a cool inner light.
They moved together perfectly, and he found himself enchanted by Sakura's obvious pleasure. He felt her tighten around him and spasm with each orgasm, until he was at the point where he own release was imminent. She surprised him, them, quickly detaching herself from him, only to take his overeager length into her mouth. She worked him slowly, teasing him until he asked her to stop, then giggling as she refused to comply. She licked and sucked him, varying the length and timing of each stroke, until he roughly pulled him off her. Kakashi rolled them into the male superior position and impaled himself in her tight, voluptuous wetness. He pushed her legs back and thrust to the hilt, his exertions earning yet another, deeper climax from her. With a strangled cry he finally joined her, spilling himself into her, claiming her as his own.
He'd never fucked like that before. What's more, he found he didn't want to roll off her, didn't want the normal time alone, uncaressed, to recover his senses. He wanted more of her, and wished his body was still young enough to comply. He held her, instead, and breathed in her unique scent. She'd always smelled like the forest to him, of humus and fir, but tonight her scent differed. She smelled, like him, of their lovemaking, but also of the sea. Kakashi inhaled the fresh, clean smell of spray and sand, overlaid with the slightest hint of damp night air. He wrapped his arms more tightly around her, eager to protect the slight kunoichi from the cold.
He awoke hours later, at the cusp of dawn, dim light silhouetting the trees outside his window. She was gone, he realized immediately, though her still-wet clothes remained. She'd likely left while the streets were still empty, only wearing his robe, eager to start her journey. He understood. Mission starts were tension-filled, and the best way to deal with the mixture of anxiety and anticipation simply was to get on with it.
Still, he wished she'd stayed, wished she'd said goodbye in the revealing light of dawn. Kakashi sat up in his makeshift bed and pulled his clothes on. He'd slept fitfully, waking several times to ascertain that she was still with him, pressed tightly against his side on the narrow couch. Each time he'd fallen back asleep with a smile on his lips. He hadn't slept deeply, instead skimming the surface as he considered her words and his own reaction to them.
Was he really happy? He'd thought so, or rather, he'd never considered happiness part of the equation. His life suited him—had suited him. But last night Sakura had revealed to him another life. He saw for the first time the quiet of joy of being intimate with another, the hope uncovered when one's flaws, once revealed, were accepted, even honored. They hadn't fucked last night. This wasn't the frantic copulation he'd experienced before, where two participants kept their emotional distance while seeking the most personal of physical contact. No. He and Sakura had made love, something he'd never done before.
But he couldn't be in love with her, could he? She'd only just confessed her feelings to him, and he'd never considered her more than a friend before last night.
But there had been something between them, then, that he'd never felt before. Surely it was worth nurturing.
Maybe he could still catch her. Kakashi pulled on his sandals and ran from his house, sprinting the distance to the village gate. The day watch was just coming on, and he knew the pair of sleepy chuunin would have no information to offer. Instead, Kakashi picked up the roster still sitting next to a plastic pumpkin now empty of candy, and scanned the list for her signature.
The copy ninja smiled. Her name wasn't among those who had left the village this morning. Obviously her team was still gathering. But where? She hadn't given Kakashi the smallest details of the mission, not a clue that might help him figure the composition of her team, or their likely preferences.
Kakashi pivoted abruptly and ran to the tall cylindrical building housing the Hokage's office. Naruto wouldn't be there, but surely his secretary would be. A Hokage's assistant and all around dogsbody tended to work eighteen hours or more each day, often sleeping in the office. He or she would let Kakashi know the meeting place. Kakashi was sure of this.
"You're up awfully early," was the greeting the copy ninja heard as he bounded up the final flight of stairs leading to the building's executive offices. Naruto's blond head, its spikes slightly more subdued that in years past peered over the stair railing, a familiar fox-like grin upon his face. "I didn't think you ever got up before ten a.m., Sensei."
The jinchuuriki certainly had matured in the time since Kakashi had last seen him—the 'dattebayos' that had once peppered Naruto's speech had been replaced by smoother, formal language. It was amazing what two years could do to a person.
"Are you ready to debrief? I'd offer you some coffee but no one else is here yet. I still haven't figured out the machine." Naruto turned, white and red robes rustling around him as he ushered Kakashi into his office.
"With your permission, Hokage-sama, I'd like to forgo that. Instead, I need to know—where is Sakura? I need to speak to her."
Naruto looked at his mentor quizzically, his face taking on for a moment the scrunched-up expression of incomprehension he'd so often worn as genin. It contrasted boldly with the image of competence he'd been projecting.
"You need to speak to her? She's…" The sixth Hokage fell silent, his features still contorted by confusion.
Kakashi blinked. "She's what?"
"You do realize that she's…" again Naruto's voice trailed off, and his expression changed. This time it was unreadable.
Kakashi's frustration grew. Why was Naruto trying to stall him? Was it that important that Sakura's mission not be delayed? Surely five minutes would not place the team in jeopardy. The copy ninja took a deep breath to avoid the court martial that could easily result from a misplaced word or gesture. Although a former student, the man standing before him was now the most powerful out of many nations. The Hokage wouldn't, no, couldn't stand for backtalk, even from a man renowned for it.
Kakashi suddenly realized he didn't care.
"Do I realize that she's not available? Yes, of course I do," Kakashi blurted out, heedless of the potential consequences. "I need to say goodbye to her. I didn't do so properly before I left two years ago, and I don't want to make that mistake again. So tell me, Naruto-sama, where can I find her?"
Naruto, too, appeared to be choosing his words carefully. As this was somewhat new to him, this took him some time, time the copy ninja did not have.
"The memorial," the Rokudaime said, finally. "The usual place. Kakashi, they did tell you, didn't they? That she's—"
The copy ninja didn't linger to hear the rest. He'd hastily bowed, then jumped through the opened window, long before Naruto finished his sentence. Kakashi didn't have time for the necessary formalities. He was much too rushed to worry about making an appropriate exit.
Who met for a mission by the memorial? Kakashi wondered as he sprinted. Rock Lee? No, it was too morbid a place for that man's overly romantic sensibility. Neji? Probably. The man seemed to be obsessed with the darker side of life. Such a place would suit him. Apart from that, it was nearby the Hyuuga compound. So, Neji would probably lead the charge. Maybe Hinata was along, as well. That would explain why Naruto had acted so strangely—he was probably concerned about her.
The mission must be a critical one, Kakashi surmised, to have two byakugan users involved. Neji had made a wise decision in choosing Sakura as his medic. Her role in the hospital had undoubtedly grown with Tsunade's passing. For such a key medic to be assigned to a mission attested to its likely difficulty.
Kakashi hoped Sakura's team realized how lucky they were to have her. She really was something else—her hands could be a sharp as scalpels when needed, or strong enough to pulverize bone. How many medics could work completely without tools, as she did? How many were walking pharmacopeia, brimming with information about every aspect of their craft?
He had a lot to tell her, Kakashi realized. He'd never let her know how proud he was of all that she had become. He'd never acknowledged the strength of will that had brought her to this place in life. Kakashi had thought he was seeking Sakura out to tell her that he cared about her, and that he believed his feelings could grow to be more than that. The copy ninja had wanted to let her know that he was willing to try out a life lived in intimacy with another. With her. Now Kakashi recognized that he needed to say much more. She'd become so much. Any man would be happy to have her as his own.
He was too late, he saw as he approached the cenotaph. The place was deserted. Sakura and her team, whoever they were, had obviously left. He must have just missed them—they'd probably left while he was speaking with Naruto. Kakashi sighed. He knew he couldn't track them—not now-- that would be in direct violation of mission protocol. Once a team left the village on a high level mission, they were not to be disturbed, except by Hokage's express orders. He doubted Naruto, despite their past relationship, would accept any excuse Kakashi could think of to interrupt this mission. And if he was worth his salt as leader of the village, Naruto definitely wouldn't accept the truth, either.
Kakashi stood silently for a moment before he remembered, again, just where he was. Hopefully, Sakura would return. He'd tell her his feelings then. And hopefully she'd accept his offer of more than friendship. But now, as he was at the memorial, he should pay his respects to the fallen. He was two years overdue for a visit.
Kakashi sighed deeply, then knelt before the granite monument to brush off its dusty surface. No one had been to the stone itself in a while, it seemed. He ran his fingers along the names carved into the stone until he came to the most familiar one—that of his friend, Obito. He said a silent prayer for the person who'd showed him so much about life, and felt a feeling of warmth in response. Perhaps Obito's spirit was aware of Kakashi's daily life and wished him well. Perhaps Obito saw Sakura's companionship as good for his friend. It would be reassuring to have his approval.
Who was he kidding? Obito had nothing to say about this. The boy was dead, his flesh long since burned to ashes and bones crumbled to dust. The feeling of warmth Kakashi had just felt was an invention of his mind—a simple mechanism to keep his old friend's memory alive. It was nothing more than that. Still, if Obito had survived the war, and if he'd lived through the many skirmishes that comprised the life of a shinobi, perhaps he would approve. Obito would doubtless chide his friend for his perverse history of remaining aloof, but maybe he'd see Sakura as the cure for that, as the start of something new.
Kakashi frowned as he stood up and surveyed the oddly-cut stone. It was running out of surface area. Perhaps a larger one would be installed eventually. Once, Obito's name had been one of the last carved in the stone. But a lot had happened since the Ninja wars so many years ago. Now Obito's name held its own in the middle of a much longer sea of names. Uchiha—a long list of the members of the extinct line followed Obito's name. Then scores of others. Sarutobi. Akimichi. Other names he barely recognized. Moegi-- wasn't she still just a kid? And Aburame Shino? When had that happened? He'd seen him just before he left on his last mission. The bug user had been his usual self, overly reserved and hard to read. He'd been a genius with his family's jutsu. The battle that had taken him must have been fierce.
And there was Nara Shikamaru's name-- he'd beaten his scarred father to the grave. Kakashi had heard of this death, as it had repercussions within the intelligence community. Shikamaru had died in late October of the previous year, he remembered. This news, garbled some by its circuitous path of transmission, had taken months to get to the copy ninja, as Kakashi was still under deep cover. He'd found out at the same time he'd learned of Naruto's ascendancy.
So much loss. At least Shikamaru hadn't died in vain. The mission had been a success, if Kakashi remembered correctly. But how many of the deaths recorded here could have been prevented? The copy ninja continued to trace the names on the stone as he considered the expendability of those who chose this profession.
Hyuuga? He started, as he recognized yet another name. Hyuuga Hinata? But …that couldn't be. Only hours ago, Sakura had referred to Naruto's wife in the present tense. "He works late so many nights. Hinata worries about him." Those were Sakura's words.
Kakashi exhaled, as reality hit him with a sidelong blow. He doubled over, not in pain, but in disbelief, moving his face closer to the highly polished memorial to be sure that his eyes weren't deceiving him. He hadn't recognized it at first, as she'd always written her name in kana, not kanji. There were multiple ways to write her surname, and he'd never bothered to find out just which her family favored. Kakashi's single eye had scanned past her name as he'd read through the names of the recently deceased. But there it was, chiseled indelibly, right between those of Shikamaru and Hinata.
Kakashi stood, confused, then sprinted to the library. He didn't visit the place often, as they had never carried his preferred reading material, but he knew they'd have the resource he needed. He banged on the door for a moment before realizing the time. He immediately decided to break in. Locks were a nuisance in a place like Konoha—any seven year old student had the skills to defeat them. He'd gladly pay their replacement cost: the library's governing board would surely realize how pressing his need was, and disregard this small act of vandalism. Kakashi clapped his hands together and began the door unlocking jutsu, but he needn't have bothered. Despite the extremely early hour, someone was already at work. A small woman, with short white hair curled in a frumpy, grandmotherly fashion smiled at him through thick-lensed glasses, as she unbolted the door. She nimbly stepped aside as he crashed into the room.
Despite being half-hidden by her owl-like glasses, the woman had an expressive face, made even more so by the laugh lines that appeared when she smiled. Somehow, her features seemed a bit familiar, although Kakashi was fairly certain they'd never met. Perhaps it was that she resembled his stereotype of the dowdy, middle-aged librarian. She possessed all of the necessary accoutrements. She wore a lanyard to secure her glasses, should they fly off as she ran to retrieve an urgently needed book from the closed stacks. And she sported a pastel twin set, with cardigan draped over her shoulders and clasped at the neck with a gaudy gold tone brooch. Her ensemble was completed with a calf-length skirt in a style from years past, and the sensible, ugly shoes all librarians wore.
But despite her similarity to every other middle-aged librarian he'd ever met, it was apparent that this woman wasn't the type of librarian that would issue reproving shushes from the check-in counter. No, she radiated comfort, like a nurse, or pre-school teacher, and Kakashi imagined she was a much loved grandmother, as well. She seemed built for hugs, her figure amply cushioned in all the right places, her expression gentle and accepting. She probably was every child's favorite, within the reading circle as well as at home.
She was taking down the Halloween decorations, Kakashi noticed. There must have been a party—the place was festooned with orange and black crepe paper streamers, as well as the mandatory arched-back cats, bedsheet ghosts and pumpkin cutouts. A small smile played across her perfectly pink lips as she turned towards him. She must have noticed him staring.
"I almost never have visitors this early in the morning. In fact, we're usually closed. 'But when you need a good book, you need a good book'--that's what I always say. You seem to be in a rush, too. A mission, I'll bet. Is there anything I can help you find?"
The woman looked at him expectantly as she set the decorations on the circulation counter.
"Where do you keep your back issues of newspapers?"
"Well, the last few weeks are still on the rack. The rest are kept in back."
"Could I see the volumes for last year? Around this time—October and November, I guess."
"Let me check." She returned quickly, a small frown marring her formerly placid expression.
"Those months are still at the bindery, though they should have been back by now. I hope they haven't lost them. I'm sorry…but, I do have one issue from that time period—the one from Halloween week. Would you like to see it?"
The librarian reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a folded broadsheet.
"Please take care of it. It's somewhat precious to me." A room's harsh fluorescent lighting reflected from her glasses, obscuring her expression. The copy ninja could not mistake the tone of her voice, however. Perhaps the paper contained a birth or wedding announcement of someone special to her.
Kakashi took the yellowed document to the closest table and carefully unfolded its brittle pages. Though only a year old, the newspaper hadn't held up well. He paged through it, and quickly found the obituaries. "Nara, Shikamaru, Jounin. Intelligence officer." Kakashi disregarded the story below this headline, and scanned further down the page. "Hyuuga Hinata, Jounin. Clan leader." The copy ninja's eyes—both covered and visible-- blurred as he found what he was looking for.
"Haruno Sakura— age 21, Jounin. Chief Medical Officer, Konoha Hospital.
Sakura, as her friends knew her, was well-known in the village for her positive demeanor, as well as her tenacity. At the age of 19 she was appointed chief medic of the hospital, the youngest person ever to hold that post. Called by some "the next Tsunade," she inherited an impressive legacy of strength and medical knowledge from the late Hokage.
Haruno was killed in the line of duty, and died honorably. Although particular details of her mission cannot be divulged, it is known that she drowned in a futile attempt to rescue several children held hostage by the enemy. Her body was not recovered. Services will be held in her memory on November 4. In lieu of flowers, her family asks that donations be made to the hospital's research program."
"It was hard saying goodbye to her."
Kakashi looked up to see the white-haired librarian standing beside him. Before, he hadn't noticed the faint tinge of pink in her hair, but in the bright fluorescent light her former hair color was readily apparent.
"You're Hatake-sensei, aren't you?" The librarian wiped away tears, after removing the now the thick-lensed glasses from her face. Her striking, bright green eyes were Sakura's, as were the perfectly arched eyebrows that communicated every nuance of her feelings. She even had Sakura's wide, intelligent forehead. His teammate's bookishness had obviously had its source here.
"You can call me Reiko. Sakura told me a lot about you."
"I didn't know… I just returned last night." His shoulders slumped in defeat, and he was surprised to feel a small hand pat him gently.
Reiko spoke quietly. "Sometimes I feel like she's still with me. I decorated this place in her honor, you know. She loved Halloween, ever since she was a child, although she hated the scary parts. She was always so analytical— I couldn't understand her interest in a holiday about ghosts.
"She didn't believe in yuurei?"
The elder Haruno sat down next to him. Her bright smile stood in contradiction to the tears still spilling from her eyes. "On the contrary, she did. She was sure she'd seen a few at the morgue, and in the E.R. It gave her hope, she said, hope that the next world might be better than this, that she'd meet everyone she'd loved and lost." Reiko laughed. "Of course that also opened up the possibility of hostile ghosts. The idea of onryuu and evil spirits terrified her. She told me about one night when Sai brought one to life. You came to her rescue, didn't you?"
Kakashi nodded. He hadn't realized Sakura was so close to her mother. There was a lot he'd never known about her, he saw.
Reiko placed her small hand over his. "She cared about you."
The copy ninja exhaled a long breath of frustration. Why hadn't she told him? Why hadn't he realized? Why hadn't he noticed her?
"I told her that she should tell you. But she never did listen to her mom about the important things. Daughters are always that way."
This was how it felt to be completely muddled-- to be so confused that one couldn't tell up from down, or black from white. How had Naruto survived such numbing uncertainty to become an adult? But the confusion went beyond this morning. It extended, Kakashi realized, to his entire adult life. How had he survived for so long in his self-imposed isolation, viewing reality through a flawed, distorted lens? His keen senses had betrayed him, and his much vaunted Sharingan hadn't allowed him to see how things really were. But he did know something, he realized, despite this lack of perception. Something now was quite visible.
"I love her, Mrs. Haruno." This wasn't a lie. He knew now, that he did, and that he would have, earlier, if only he'd been more aware. If only he'd seen clearly.
"Then I'll bet she knows that."
She was still weeping, Kakashi noticed, though her tears were not accompanied by sobs or shudders. On the contrary, they were restful and unabashed. "You're probably going to think I'm a crazy old baba, but something funny happened this morning. I don't usually come in this early, but I woke up before it was light. Maybe it was the decorations that had me thinking of her, or maybe it's the fact that she died a year ago yesterday, but I thought I heard her talking to me. That's what woke me up. I was sure I heard her voice. I opened my eyes and I could almost see her. But I wasn't wearing my glasses and things were kind of blurry. There was someone in the room with me, and I'm certain it was her. She was wearing white, and her hair was down. I could feel something—peace, maybe— radiating from her. Something warm and beautiful. And I'm sure she looked beautiful, too. She said, "I did it, Mom. I did what you asked." And then she said, "I'm so happy now."
Reiko smiled in a way Kakashi recognized. It was the same beatific smile he'd seen on Sakura's face only hours before—a small, but real smile that fully communicated a feeling of joy.
"Mrs. Haruno—" he began. "I—"
He couldn't tell her. It wasn't right to share such an intimacy.
But she looked at him with a keen understanding which allayed his fears.
"You didn't look at me like I was crazy. You believe me, don't you?'
He nodded. Why wouldn't she have seen Sakura? Part of him couldn't believe she was gone. All of him wished he could still see her.
She gazed at him for a moment, then narrowed her eyes in sudden understanding.
"You saw my daughter last night, didn't you? You saw her, too."
Kakashi hadn't wept in years, not since the day he'd received his Sharingan. Shinobi didn't cry, after all. They showed minimal emotion, gritting their teeth through adversity and sorrow. But now he couldn't hold back. He cast his eyes downward as he nodded slowly in agreement, anxious that Sakura's mother wouldn't see the overwhelming evidence of his weakness.
Damn it. He was ruining the newspaper. Small drops of salt water spread across the cheap paper, threatening to sever its weak fibers. Still looking away from the older woman, he folded the paper and held it out towards her.
He was surprised when she wrapped his fingers over it, and pushed it away from herself.
"Then it was you who made her happy. You see that, don't you?"
Kakashi looked up to see her smiling radiantly. She had Sakura's nose, he realized, and the same expressive eyebrows. And she had the same ebullient smile. He found that he couldn't do anything but smile back through his tears, mirroring her expression of genuine happiness. Finally he spoke, his voice strangled by emotion.
"Domo arigatou gozaimashita. A million times over, thank you."
Kakashi walked outside into the bright light of a crisp October morning, and breathed deeply. Strangely, the air was tinged not only with the earthy smells of autumn, but with the unmistakable fragrance of the sea. He'd never smelled it before, not here. Konoha was two days march from the ocean, and sea breezes never made it this far inland.
Sakura was still here, he realized. She'd traveled on, but a small part of her—a faint echo-- remained to comfort and warm him. He'd been wrong about this life, Kakashi saw. And he'd been wrong about the next. He'd see her again, and he'd love her again. All of her. He was sure of it.