A/N: Hey guys! Firstly, I'm really sorry that this has taken so long to update. I have had a really full-on few weeks, but I've finally finished this story! I hope you guys like it. Please let me know what you think (I really love reviews), and if you're interested in reading any more of my work, I will be starting a new fic soon. Thanks for sticking with this one! xx
The light of dawn was cold and bleak - the sun hidden behind a thick, white blanket of clouds which stretched across the sky. Yamato, already awake for his watch shift, woke the others at the first sign of light. Both Kakashis sprung to their feet immediately, alert and ready to move. Sakura took only a second longer. Yamato noticed with some consternation that Sakura had slept on the opposite side of the campfire to both Kakashis. Did they have a fight? he wondered.
In a tiny flicker of movement which a less observant man would have missed, Sakura sent a small smile towards the older Kakashi. No, Yamato realised with a spark of amusement. They're hiding something.
Yamato had spent long enough with his team to know exactly when they thought they were being subtle. Idiots, he thought fondly.
For the first hour, the group waited patiently by the cave entrance as the world grew light around them. By the time the sun was fully visible in the sky, all four knew, but were reluctant to be the first to say, that Jiraiya wasn't coming.
"The chuunin said he'd be here at dawn, right?" Sakura broke the silence eventually. Yamato nodded.
"First light, apparently. What should we do, Kakashi-senpai?" Yamato directed his question towards the older man with a respectful incline of his head. After a moment of deliberation, Kakashi sighed.
"We can't activate the seal alone." he reasoned. "We need a seals master, and-"
At that moment, a thunderous crack echoed around the clearing. The four reacted immediately. Chest pounding, Sakura backflipped away, springing into the boughs of the nearest tree. She had instinctively pulled a kunai from her thigh holster, and she held it in front of her defensively as she landed, using chakra to latch on to the tree without slipping. To her surprise, the older Kakashi landed beside her less than a millisecond later, hitai ate already pulled up to expose his sharingan. Both shinobi scanned the clearing with narrowed eyes.
In the aftermath of the sound, the space seemed to ring with a deafening silence. For several tense seconds, no one moved. Sakura could sense the other two members of their team's chakra singing from the other side of the clearing, where they had taken cover as well.
It was Yamato who moved first. He hopped down from his perch in the trees and landed in defensive stance at the edge of the clearing. When nothing moved to attack him, he signaled for the rest of the team to join him. Sakura tensed the muscles in her legs before jumping lithely from the top of the tree to rest on the ground by the trunk.
"What was that?" asked the younger Kakashi, consternation furrowing his brow as the four drew close together at the edge of the cave mouth.
Three faces turned to look at Sakura in surprise. She stared back, eyes wide with worry.
"The seal, it's getting more unstable. There's not another more reasonable explanation. We need to examine it." she explained emphatically. The younger Kakashi nodded his agreement.
"For whatever reason, Jiraiya's not here. We need to do our best with what we have available." he pointed out. Yamato shot him a hard look.
"We don't have a seals master." he shot back. "This is the kind of stupid idea that gets shinobi killed."
The younger Kakashi opened his mouth to retort; before he could say a word, another rumbling, cracking sound filled the air around them. This time, the earth beneath their feet even shook a little. It went against all of their instincts to stand their ground at that moment, rather than slip into defensive postures, but the second crack had revealed one thing - the sound was without a doubt coming from inside the cave. Once the ensuing rumbles had faded away into silence once again, Yamato gritted his teeth before speaking.
"I won't be of any help in there." he stated finally. "You're right, we need to examine it, but I am much better placed to try to contact Jiraiya-sama, or the Hokage, than to try to assist with that."
The older Kakashi nodded.
"Yamato, you return to the village." he instructed, already thinking ahead. "The three of us will examine the seal, and take any necessary precautions to contain it. Inform the Hokage that Jiraiya has not arrived at the site, and advise her that the seal is rapidly degenerating in terms of stability."
With a nod and a shared glance of understanding which he exchanged with Kakashi, Yamato took off towards the village, leaving the remaining three nin to make their own way inside the cave.
"Stay alert." was Kakashi's final instruction to the two younger members of his team as they entered the cave.
The tunnel was almost obscenely bright; filled with a powerful purple light, every nook and cranny of the cave was illuminated to the eyes of the three nin. It seemed impossible to Kakashi that the same cave which had been too dark to walk in only days prior was now brighter than daylight. It made him uneasy, for some reason he couldn't place. They kept their pace even as they made their way along the tunnel, but he could sense the tension in the two nin beside him. A small part of him wanted to take Sakura's hand as they walked, as a small reassurance - he knew, however, that it wasn't reassurance she needed. She would finish the mission, and boldly at that, because that was what her shishou had taught her. What even he had tried to teach her, before Sasuke had left, and Naruto had left, and their team had become-
That train of thought was a million times too painful for Kakashi to face, so he shut it off, bringing his mind back to the mission at hand.
The light became brighter still as they reached the smaller cavern where the seal lay in waiting. Kakashi's sharingan throbbed, and as one, both he and his younger self pulled down their hitai ate to protect their sharingan from the overpowering light.
The seal had changed in the night. Gone was its huge, confusing patchwork of symbols and signs, replaced by a much smaller, clearer and more explicit facade - a chain of smaller signs encircling an opaque centre. Kakashi didn't have to be a seals master to know that that was where his younger counterpart would have to stand to be transported back to his time. He drew in a shallow breath as he took it in.
It was Sakura's reaction that worried him, however. She froze up at the sight of it, hands clenched into fists.
"What is it?" he asked, placing a calming hand on her arm. Her eyes snapped to his, her confusion mirrored back at him in the midst of the wide jade orbs.
"I can't read this." she blurted out. "I mean, it's clear what it means, but I can't actually read it like I could before. I don't feel a connection to the chakra in the seal at all."
Kakashi furrowed his brow in consternation. Before he could respond, the seal flashed a bright white, and Kakashi could feel it expel chakra into the stone beneath his feet. Almost immediately, the cave began to tremble, a thin stream of dust fell from the ceiling, and he tensed, holding back the rush of memories which he could feel calling for attention at the back of his mind.
"The seal is incredibly unstable." he said when the earth's shaking had stopped and the seal's light faded slightly.
"No kidding." came the irritated reply from his younger self. Kakashi opened his mouth to retort, but closed it again when he took in his younger self's pale face, and his almost imperceptible trembling. He'd forgotten, he realised, that it had taken him years to be able to push down the memories of the day Obito died. This younger version of himself wasn't anywhere near healed.
"Right." he spoke up, bringing his hands together to brush imaginary dust off his gloves. He took several bold steps closer to the seal, and crouched down beside it. A commanding edge took over his voice as he began to speak.
"Clearly, this seal is ready to transport something. I'm going to take a guess that we have less than an hour to activate it and send you-" he shot a glance at his younger self, "back to the past. Sakura, we don't have a seals master, but this needs to be activated as soon as possible, so we're going to have to make do."
Sakura frowned, but didn't object. She bit her lip absently as she weighed up the situation in her mind.
"We should put a protective seal on him as well." she replied finally, her resolve clear in her eyes. Kakashi felt a quick stab of pride and flashed her a grin. Though she couldn't see his smile through the mask, Sakura had known him long enough to be able to tell by the crinkle of his visible eye when his smile was genuine.
"My thoughts exactly." he agreed. "Okay, kid, lie down in the middle." were his next instructions, turning his attention back to his younger self. The younger Kakashi shot him a dubious look.
"It won't kill you." Kakashi reassured the younger man, somewhat unreassuringly. After a tense second, however, the younger Kakashi complied, and lowered himself gingerly into the centre of the seal. As he lay back onto the opaque panel, tendrils of bright chakra shot out from the sides of the seal, wrapping around his chest and arms and holding him in place. Sakura gasped and moved towards the younger Kakashi instinctively. Only the older Kakashi's restraining hand on her arm stopped her.
"Look." he directed with a nod of his head.
The younger Kakashi lifted his head slightly from the floor to send her a reassuring smile. His visible eye drooped sleepily.
"It doesn't hurt." he murmured, voice free of tension. "It actually feels... I don't know. Right."
Sakura stared at the young man for a moment. The silence was broken by the older Kakashi's low chuckle.
"I don't think he's going to be much help from here on out." he murmured to Sakura conspiratorially. Despite herself, Sakura couldn't help but suppress a smile.
"I never have understood how you can be so calm in these situations." she murmured in reply. Kakashi merely shrugged.
They set to work on the protective seal immediately, kneeling gingerly on either side of the younger man. Sakura took a moment to calm the flow of her chakra before stretching out her hand and laying it gently against the younger Kakashi's arm. Immediately, she withdrew it with a pained hiss. The fingertips of her right hand were bright red and blistered, and she swore she could feel the seal's highly active chakra sinking immediately into her system. The weight of Kakashi's gaze caused her to look up to see him staring at her, visible eye slightly narrowed in concern.
"Chakra burn." she explained with a shrug, ignoring the way the sight tugged at her memory. As a medic, she was used to the feeling of foreign chakra invading her system - many times, unconscious or unwilling patients accidentally let some of their chakra slip into her system, sometimes without her even noticing. The effects could be very disruptive, even to the point of physical manifestation, or they could simply fade away after a few days. Either way, Sakura was hardened to the pain of chakra burns. She briefly considered healing the burns, but then realised the futility of the situation; in order to place the protective seal on the younger man, she was going to have to touch him again. Better to get it over with sooner rather than later.
"You're going to need to take off your shirt, so we can place a protective seal on your chest." she murmured to the younger Kakashi, focussing her eyes on his vague gaze. When he didn't reply, his eye closing further, she rolled her eyes.
"Helpful." she muttered to herself in exasperation. Taking a kunai from the pouch at her hip, she grabbed a fistful of his shirt and went about cutting it from his body. Her hand brushed against his chest several times, and she suppressed a tiny wince at the invasive burning that came with it.
"I can handle the protective seal." Kakashi interrupted her work. She glanced up with a raised brow.
"I'm not a baby, Kakashi. I can handle a couple of burns." she replied. His disapproving frown sent a spark of amusement through her. "Besides, it would severely deplete your chakra to set the protective seal all by yourself, and if you then continued to try to activate the larger seal, you'd probably collapse again. If we both work quickly, we can minimize the burns for both of us."
Her logic was entirely sound, they both knew. After a long moment, Kakashi nodded.
"It's not burning me, though." he pointed out with a shrug, pressing his palm to his younger self's arm to demonstrate. When he drew his hand away, the skin was unburnt.
Sakura didn't have much time to ponder the inconsistencies of the seal's chakra. Her and Kakashi brought the protective seal into fruition quickly, mimicking their chakra ratio from the previous day. The protective seal which they began to create was delicate, a balance of non-invasive and protective chakra. On a whim, Sakura added some of her own healing chakra to the seal; she wasn't sure how much use it would be, but she decided it couldn't hurt to preemptively give the seal the option to heal any minor wounds which may occur to the younger Kakashi's body during the time travelling process.
Once they felt they'd channeled enough of their chakra into the seal, holding it between them like a delicate, glowing spiderweb, Kakashi gestured for Sakura to help him seal it to his younger self's chest. At first Sakura was worried they would recieve a similar reaction from the seal as they had the previous day, when they'd attempted to set the containment seal. To her surprise, however, the protective seal sunk quickly into the younger Kakashi's chest without resistance, fitting itself seamlessly around the bands of chakra already present from the transportation seal. As Sakura touched the younger man's chest once more, foreign chakra seared her hands with heat. She ignored the pain of the burns as best she could, with the kind of grim determination which years of training under one of the legendary sannin had instilled in her.
Kakashi and Sakura sat back on their heals, panting from the effort of using their chakra with such control.
"One seal down, one to go." was Kakashi's dry comment. Sakura grinned through her exhaustion.
"We'd better get started then." she murmured. "How exactly are we supposed to do this?"
Kakashi frowned thoughtfully.
"Considering how active and responsive it is, I'd say there's not too much that we have to do. Obviously it will take a lot of chakra control, but it should be enough to push our own chakra into it, hopefully setting it into motion." he finished with a shrug.
For a moment, Sakura merely stared skeptically at her ex-sensei, the doubt clear in her eyes.
"Hopefully?" she questioned. "We're placing your life in danger on the grounds of hope?"
"Um... yeah. Problems?"
"None at all." she muttered finally with a roll of her eyes. She made no further protest as they both readied themselves to begin the process, however, settling for a disapproving glance instead.
This time, when they began to push chakra into the seal in tightly controlled increments, it hurt. Sakura tried to ignore the burning of her hands, and the cramps which were setting into her muscles, an early sign of chakra exhaustion, focussing instead on keeping the flow of chakra between herself and the seal at a stable and consistent level. For the first few minutes, nothing seemed to happen; a fear began to grow in Sakura, as the nagging worry that their efforts wouldn't be enough grew louder in her head. It was Kakashi's tiny sigh of relief, after they'd been channeling for ten or so minutes, that alleviated her worries. At the sound she glanced up questioningly.
"The light is growing brighter." he explained to her. "You'll be able to see it in a minute. I think that's our chakra it's responding to. It's working, Sak, just try to keep it up a little while longer."
Sakura started in surprise.
"Sak? She asked, eyebrow raised. Kakashi seemed equally surprised that he'd said it.
"Huh." he commented, visible eye alight with mirth. "I like that nickname. I think I'll keep that one."
Though she didn't tell him, Sakura had liked the sound of her shortened name on his tongue as well. It was so rare for him to let down his wall of politeness, and she'd never heard him use a nickname for anyone else. She bit back a fond smile, returning to the task at hand.
Sure enough, as the minutes ticked by Sakura began to notice a slight change in the brightness of the seal's light. As her chakra reserves grew lower and lower, the light grew brighter and brighter, until she had to scrunch up her eyes and peer through lowered lashes just to stand the light.
"Almost there." Kakashi grunted, the strain evident in his voice. "Flood it with chakra in one last push, come on."
With a final burst of effort, Sakura flooded the seal with her chakra all at once, a pained gasp escaping her lips as she pushed her body over the brink into a state of chakra exhaustion. She felt, rather than heard, Kakashi do the same. The seal burned white hot beneath her hands, and Sakura fell backwards, unable to sit upright any longer.
It was with a momentous cracking sound that the seal snapped out of their world, taking the younger Kakashi with it. From her position curled on the ground, Sakura watched as the cave around her filled with a blinding light before falling into total darkness. She could no longer see the ground between her and Kakashi, but somehow she knew the seal had worked - the younger Kakashi was gone.
Unfortunately, their problems were far from over. At first Sakura wanted to deny hearing the rumbling sounds echoing all around them in the aftermath of the seal's activation; she was so tired, and her body ached, and she wanted to believe that the cave would survive the impact of the seal leaving their time. Sakura wasn't delusional, however.
As the cave began to collapse around them, she struggled to her feet, ignoring her body's protests.
"Kakashi!" she called into the darkness. She couldn't see a thing, and without enough chakra to even walk very well, she doubted she could use her glowing palm technique to light the darkness.
"Kakashi, are you conscious?" she called again, a tinge of desperation entering her voice. Stooping down to the floor, she began to move around on her hands and knees, searching for Kakashi.
She made contact with his leg first, grasping his shin in relief as she pulled herself closer to him. He wasn't responsive to her voice, nor to her touch when she began to shake him gently, but at least she knew he hadn't been transported along with his younger counterpart.
"Kakashi." she pleaded again, shaking him. A light groan came from the man, and a moment later she felt him hold onto her as he shakily sat up.
"What happened?" he asked in the darkness.
"The cave - it's collapsing, we need to get out now." Though she tried to keep her tone as calm and even as possible, she couldn't help the exhausted tremble which entered her voice. Evidently, Kakashi heard it too. With a wince and a pained groan, Sakura helped Kakashi to his feet, pulling his arm around her shoulders and tucking hers around his waist. It was then that she realised he was shaking, trembling against her. Somehow, the knowledge gave her a surge of adrenaline, a protective response to realising he was probably hurt.
She began to stagger forwards, aiming blindly for the tunnel opening which she couldn't see. By some blind luck, she found the hole first time, and felt some of her dread give way to relief as she began to pull Kakashi with her up the tunnel, towards the distant spot of daylight.
Kakashi was almost dead weight against her; she could feel him trying to keep up, but he was leaning heavily on her, and eventually she ended up almost carrying him, unable to enhance her strength with chakra and having to depend entirely on her own muscles to half-drag him along. The cave mouth grew closer and closer, until Sakura could make out her surroundings once more, and she instinctively sped up - narrowly missing a chunk of rock which fell from the ceiling, landing on the ground with a thump where she'd been only moments before.
"Fuck." she cursed under her breath.
She was so close to the cave mouth, just a few more steps, she could see the trees outside, could see the two figures approaching rapidly across the clearing, and she was going to make it, she knew she could make it-
The cave collapsed behind her. Something struck her on the head, hard, and everything went black.
Senses came back to Sakura slowly. At first, it was the sharp smell of disinfectant and the muted beeping sounds coming from beside her which brought her back into consciousness. Next was the feeling of sheets across her body, and the dull aching in her head. When she finally steeled herself to open her eyes, she wasn't at all surprised to find herself in the hospital. What was vaguely surprising, however, was the audience she woke to.
Tsunade stood at the end of Sakura's bed with her hands on her hips, and a face like thunder. Despite her stern exterior, Sakura could tell from the spark of relief in the woman's eyes that she wasn't wholly unhappy to see her awake.
Beside her stood Shizune and Yamato, both of which were supporting a decidedly cheerful Kakashi, who had somehow managed to avoid being forced into hospital clothes, though he'd clearly been made to remove his jounin vest and hitai ate.
"Sakura-chan." Kakashi greeted her with a nod. Sakura resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
"You shouldn't be out of bed." she scolded him halfheartedly, her own voice cracking a little. "Though I'm glad you're alive. How long was I out, shishou?" This time, her question was directed at Tsunade, who seemed to be caught between a sigh of relief and a glower.
"How long were you out? Well, there was the two hours it took to get you back here after you two were so reckless as to-"
Tsunade paused, taking a moment to clear her throat and reign in her temper.
"Anyway," she began again, slightly more calmly. "You were unconscious for two hours while Shizune and Yamato carried you back, after making sure you weren't going to die-" Her throat closed up a little. "And you've been out for about an hour since you got to the hospital."
Sakura nodded, eyeing her shishou warily. At Tsunade's side, Shizune did the same, eyes sympathetic as she chewed her lip. Shizune knew that her shishou had lost many people in her lifetime, resulting in a fierce protectiveness which she bestowed only upon those closest to her - Sakura in particular.
"Are you aware," Tsunade continued, "that you could have died? I don't know what on earth you two were thinking, attempting something so advanced and dangerous without a seals master, but if you think for one minute-"
"It's okay, shishou." Sakura broke in quietly. "We're okay, and it worked."
"Yes, by chance only." Tsunade sighed. "We'll talk more of this later. You're going to have to stay here for a few more hours under observation, and then you and Hatake can clear out. Since you were so insistent on getting out of bed," she added to Kakashi in exasperation, "I suppose you can stay in here, but you have to be sitting down, understood?"
Kakashi and Sakura both nodded emphatically, the relief at having gotten off without an extended lecture clear in their eyes. Once Yamato had deposited Kakashi into the chair beside Sakura's bed, the three uninjured nin left them alone, closing the sliding door behind them. And suddenly, Sakura realised the complexity of the whole situation.
She knew that she and Kakashi had a lot to talk about, especially in terms of what had happened between her and his younger self, as well as what had happened between them in the cave. She also knew that they would eventually have to have a discussion about what they planned to become, if anything. But right then, Sakura was perfectly happy to fall into a comfortable silence with her ex-sensei. He flashed her a quick smile beneath his mask, and Sakura couldn't help but smile in return. She wasn't even that annoyed when he whipped out his Icha Icha novel (where does he even keep that? she wondered) and began to read, settling back into his chair and lifting his legs to rest against the side of her bed.
She wasn't sure how long they stayed like that, with Kakashi reading and Sakura caught between dozing and sneaking surreptitious glances at him, at the way his shoulders were relaxed and his eyes free from the tension of the last few days. Eventually, though, Kakashi put the book down.
"So." he began lightly.
"So." Sakura murmured in reply, smiling as their eyes met.
"I'm not entirely sure what we should do," Kakashi mused thoughtfully. "About us. I mean, I'm aware of the responsible thing to do, which of course would be to ignore any feelings between us and pretend I don't want to take you home and fuck you against a wall."
Sakura froze, caught between a growing sense of dread and a flush of pleasure at the thought that he found her that attractive.
"However," he continued, in that same even tone, as if he was discussing something as simple as the weather, "The fact remains that there are feelings between us, and I do want to take you home and fuck you against a wall. So we're in a bit of a predicament, aren't we?"
At first, Sakura stared at him in the kind of open-mouthed shock which she rarely displayed any more. Kakashi seemed highly amused by this.
"It's up to you, of course." he added patiently. "If you would rather forget about the past couple of days, I can't say I'd blame you."
"No." Sakura finally found the ability to speak. "No, I don't want to forget about it. I... Well, you're definitely the weirdest person I've ever been attracted to, but I don't want to stop this, whatever it is. I'm quite fond of you, you know." she joked lightly, eyes tracing his face.
"You realise Tsunade is going to kill me, right?" he asked after a moment. "I guess there are worse ways to die."
Sakura snickered, already imagining the expression on Tsunade-sama's face. They settled once again into a comfortable silence.
"Would you like to come over for dinner tonight?" Sakura asked after a few minutes. Kakashi nodded.
"Only if you're cooking." he agreed solemnly. Sakura sighed.
"Don't I always?"
"That you do."
"Then it's a date."
"Okay. It's a date."
Tsunade paused as she walked past Sakura's temporary room, pulling Shizune to a halt beside her. A wicked glint entered the older woman's eye, and she moved a little closer to the room, barely catching the words 'feelings between us'.
"Shizune." she whispered conspiratorially, beckoning her younger apprentice to listen with her. "It's happening."
Tsunade's grin lasted for approximately as long as it took to hear Kakashi say 'fuck you against a wall', at which point it took all of Shizune's years of shinobi training and several promises to make good on their bet and pay for a couple of rounds of drinks, just to drag Tsunade-sama away from the door before she pulled it off its hinges.
Several hours later, Tsunade and Shizune sat slumped in a booth at their favourite bar.
"You know," Tsunade announced suddenly, "I don't mind as much as I thought I would."
Shizune nodded sagely.
"She could do a lot worse." she agreed. "Should we tell them that we know?"
"Gods, no. Watching those two idiots blunder around trying to keep it a secret is going to be the highlight of my week."
And, although Shizune didn't consider herself to be half as much of a sadistic bastard as her shishou, she had to agree. Kakashi and Sakura would undoubtedly try to keep an air of secrecy around their relationship, paranoid nin that they were. She fully intended to sit back and let someone else try to keep their relationship hidden from Tsunade for a while - Kami knew she was tired of being the only one.
And on that note... she thought, steeling her nerves. Best to get this over with while she's in a good mood.
"Hey, Tsunade-sama." she began, turning to the blonde. "Are you familiar with Hyuuga Tokuma?"
Needless to say, Tsunade's lucky streak was over. The next day, when she admitted to Sakura that 'yes, you were right about Shizune and the Hyuuga', the pink haired girl grinned triumphantly and reminded Tsunade of who would be paying for drinks the next time they went out.
"I can't come out tonight, though." Sakura admitted, failing hopelessly at hiding her little smile. "I uh, have to help Hatake with some misplaced paperwork. Sorry about that."
"Right. Of course you do."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?"
** Additional Note: For anyone who was wondering about how Sakura could read the seal, I did try to explain it through hints throughout the story. However, I'm not entirely sure how well I did that, so in case I was way too obscure: Sakura mentions that sometimes, when she's treating an unwilling patient, a little of their chakra disrupts her system. In this case, she treated the younger Kakashi within hours of him being transported to the 'future' - when he had lingering chakra from the seal in him. At that point, some of his chakra as well as the chakra from the seal began to disrupt her chakra flow, though she didn't notice. Because the seal was holding some of Kakashi's residual chakra from when he'd first been transported, Sakura was able to unknowingly use the younger Kakashi's chakra, as well as the seal's original chakra, to read the seal. Eventually, his chakra faded from her system, and she wasn't able to read the seal anymore. The reason the older Kakashi couldn't read the seal is that he hadn't come into contact with the seal's chakra - it was dependent on the mix of both the younger Kakashi's chakra, AND the seal's chakra for Sakura to read the seal.
Hopefully that clears it up! If you need me to explain more, don't hesitate to PM me. :)