Disclaimer: My medical knowledge is severely lacking. Take anything medical I ever write with a grain of salt.


Lost To Sight

Chapter 10

Dark Tidings


"Did you hear?"

"If one shinobi would be incapable of it, I would have thought it would be him."

"I'm so disappointed."

"How long has he been gone?"

"Do you think he's planning something against Konoha?"

It seemed as though everyone in Konoha was talking about Hatake Kakashi's Missing-Nin status. The news didn't take long to spread across the village.

At first Shikamaru thought it was some sort of practical joke, maybe even a classless attempt to undermine the man in some way. But as the day dragged on, and Konoha's Police was more visible in the streets than ever, Shikamaru had to concede that there was nothing false or funny about the situation.

His mind worked in a logical and reasonable way, and the only conculsion he could immediately draw was that Tsunade and the council would have had good reason to completely destroy the man's reputation.

Except, when he sat still and thought about it in depth, it didn't add up at all.

Tsunade was going to name him her successor at the Tournament. The event was only a few days away now. What could Kakashi possibly have done to deserve this?

Shikamaru spent the day on his back, next to Konoha's river. It was nearing sunset when someone finally disturbed his cloud-gazing.

"I've been looking everywhere for you."

"I've been here all day, Konohamaru," Shikamaru said without getting up.

Konohamaru had gained his Jounin rank that year, and practically lived in his uniform. He hadn't been able to part with his long scarf, however. But, Shikamaru admitted to himself, he wouldn't be Konohamaru without it. Similar to how Kakashi wouldn't be Kakashi without his mask.

Shikamaru sighed.

"I assume you've heard," Konohamaru said.

"I did," Shikamaru said.

"Today, I was given a list containing the names of Jounin rank shinobi, and a mission to find all of them. To give them the details."

"Is that so. . ." Shikamaru watched as a dog shaped cloud drifted across the sky.

"Yeah," Konohamaru said. "You're the last name on the list. Well, technically you're in the middle, but. . ."

"What do you need to tell me, Konohamaru?"

"There is a flee on sight order on Kakashi-sensei," Konohamaru started uprooting the grass as his hands looked for something to do.

"It's not uncommon," Shikamaru said. "He's exceptionally skilled. If he's a Missing-Nin, he shouldn't be taken lightly."

"Yeah, I know," Konohamaru took out a kunai and a sharpening stone. "But Anbu has been given a kill on sight order."

Shikamaru sat up.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Konohamaru ceased the repetitive motion of sharpening his kunai and turned his head to face Shikamaru. He wore a scowl so fierce that the hairs on the back of Shikamaru's neck stood on end.

"I had to tell Naruto," Konohamaru resumed the metal on stone strokes. "You should have seen his face. He was livid even before I said anything. I think he already knew. I've never seen him angry before. Well, not that kind of angry, at least."

Shikamaru took a deep breath.

"Where is Naruto now?"

"I don't know," Konohamaru said. "He sort of ignored me and disappeared. You know how fast he is. . ."

Shikamaru rubbed a hand across his face.

"I don't care what everyone is saying," Konohamaru continued. "I will never believe that Hatake Kakashi would ever betray Konoha. He risked his life to save Tsunade-sama. Why would he do that if he was going to defect?"

Shikamaru got to his feet with uncharacteristic energy.

"You're right," he said. "Come on, we need more information."

He did not wait to see if Konohamaru would follow, and made a bealine for the Jounin HQ. Konoha's Bingo book would have an updated entry for Kakashi, and would list his offense in detail.

By the time Shikamaru and Konohamaru stepped through the familiar green doors, the sun had hidden its last rays behind the mountain. They passed by the mission desk and headed down the hall to the shinobi archives. An older jounin was on duty at the door. The man looked tired, face unshaven, his posture bent.

"What do you need from the Shinobi Archives?" He asked as Shikamaru came to a halt in front of him.

"I'd like to see the most recent entries into Konoha's Bingo Book," Shikamaru said.

"You and everyone else, it seem," the man said as he turned around and undid the seal on the door. "Had a couple Chuunin in here earlier. Chased them away, of course. They're not athorised to view the detailed reports."

Konoha had two Bingo books. One contained all information, and was viewable by those of Jounin rank and above. The second book was a redacted version that Chuunin and Genin could view. It contained all the details necessary to warn them of the dangers that certain shinobi possessed, but their crimes weren't fully listed.

"I suppose you want to look at the full version?" The man asked.

"Yes, please," Shikamaru said as he followed the man through the door. Konohamaru came in last and leaned against the wall next to the entrance.

There was a large desk in the center of the room. The old Jounin opened the cabinet in the corner and took the larger of the two books from the middle shelf. He placed the heavy tome on the table, and started to leave.

"Put it back when you're done, Nara-san," he said.

Konohamaru pushed off the wall and went to stand beside Shikamaru as the older man opened the large book. It didn't take them long to find what they were looking for.

Kakashi's face stared up at them from the page. The ink was fresh, the entry short.

Hatake Kakashi, S-class Shinobi. Formerly of Konohagakure. Extremely dangerous. Master of all five chakra natures. Wielder of over one thousand jutsu, including Hiraishin. Flee on sight.

"That's it?" Konohamaru's incredulity was obvious in his tone.

"This is strange," Shikamaru commented. He paged through the book until he found Uchiha Itatchi's entry. It was much larger and contained all the gory details of the Uchiha masacre. He flipped back to Kakashi's entry and frowned. "This book is supposed to contain the details of why they are Missing-Nin. Why would they not lists Kakashi's crimes?"

"This was a waste of time," Konohamaru said.

Shikamaru closed the book and put it back in the cabinet. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked out the room, down the hall and past the mission desk.

The evening chill hit him as soon as he exited through the green wooden doors. Shikamaru couldn't resist the shiver that crawled up his spine and jerked his shoulders.

"It's not that cold out, Nara."

Shikamarau looked to his left to see Raidou leaning against the stair railing. He had his feet crossed at the ankles and his hands in his pockets. He was the picture of calm.

"What's Tsunade-sama thinking?" Shikamaru asked the older man.

Raidou's brows rose. He pushed off the railing and used the momentum to keep walking down the stairs. With his back to Shikamaru, he said, "What makes you think I'd know what goes on inside her head?"

"Your part of the Hokage Guard Platoon," Shikamaru said as he watched Genma get further away. He raised his voice as he started walking after the man. "I figured you'd at least know, or want to know, why she declared Hatake Kakashi a Missing-Nin. You are his friend, after all. Right?"

Raidou stopped and turned halfway towards Shikamaru. "I know as much as you," he said.

"It doesn't add up," Shikamaru said. Konohamaru stood rigid beside him.

Raidou glanced around them, his eyes darting left, then right. "Keep your voice down."

"Why?" Shikamaru asked, but did as he was told.

The older man seemed to hestitate. He shuffled from his left foot to his right foot, then sighed. "Follow me," he said before turning his back to Shikamaru and Konohamaru once more.

They sped past the market district, past the bright lights of the entertainment district, and towards the outskirts of Konoha. Fewer lights lit the way and soon they were plunged into almost complete darkness. Shikamaru still recognised the surroundings. Raidou was leading them through the warehouse district. It was where most of Konoha's supplies were stored. Everything from grain to metal.

That particular district was guarded with layer upon layer of genjutsu and traps. No outsider could enter undetected. Shikamaru wondered why Raidou would lead them there.

"Why are we here?" Konohamaru voiced the same curiosity once they stopped next to one of the silos that held grain.

"Quiet," Raidou said as he brought his hand together to form a seal. He closed his eyes and appeared to be in deep concentration. A moment later the wall of the silo subtly shimmered.

A concealment barrier, Shikamaru recognised. It raised all sorts of alarm bells inside his mind.

"Come on," Raidou said as he stepped through the wall.

Shikamaru hesitated, but Konohamaru charged right in. After a moment longer of indecision, Shikamaru exhaled a frustrated growl and walked through the barrier after them.

The suddenness of the light hitting his eyes blinded him, and he instinctually adopted a defensive stance. His mucles tensed and chakra channeled to his other senses, heightening them as his eyes struggled to adjust to the jarring change.

"Relax, Nara," he heard someone say as the bright spots clouding his vision began to reduce in numbers. He lowered his hands and squinted.

Shikamaru could barely make out the chairs scattered across the room. With his vision continuing to adjust he started recognising human silouettes occupying some of the chairs. When his vision finally cleared, he was surprised to see who was present inside the hidden room.

Genma leaned against the far wall, looking bored. Iwashi sat down beside a pensive Yamato, who sat next to a very subdued Naruto. If Shikamaru didn't know better, he'd think someone had decided to tranquilise him. But the biggest surprise came in the form of the Anbu Commander. He sat with his arms crossed in front of his chest, a single finger tapping away against his bicep.

"Why did you bring them here?" The Commander asked, his voice gruff and disapproving.

Raidou shrugged. "I trust them," he said.

The Commander scoffed, but didn't comment again.

Shikamaru watched as Konohamaru took uneasy steps towards Naruto, and took a seat next to him. Raidou motioned for Shikamaru to do the same. With stiff movements he walked to the chair next to Konohamaru and sat down.

"So," Raidou began. "We are in an unusual situation. Let me make something abundantly clear before we get into the details;

"Hatake Kakashi is not a traitor. The entire Hokage Guard Platoon, as well as Naruto, already know what I am about to reveal to you. Please listen carefully, and trust the information I am about to deliver to you."

Yamato sat up straighter and focussed all his attention on Raidou. The Commander stopped his finger tapping and turned his head towards the speaker. Shikamaru and Konohamaru glanced at each other, anticipation and concern shining in their eyes.

Genma and Iwashi moved to stand next to Raidou, and they each took turns relaying everything they knew about Tsunade's recent hijacking of the mind, as well as Kakashi's role in the events that followed.

"Based on what Yamato and his team discovered on their recent tracking mission, we can only assume that the hijacker, puppeteer—whatever you want to call her—decided that Kakashi was an obstacle she had to remove," Iwashi finished.

"He's dead?" Konohamaru asked, his voice low and his eyes the size of ramen bowls.

"Inconclusive," Yamato said quietly. He rubbed a hand across his face and breathed deeply.

"All we have to go on," Naruto spoke up for the first time since Shikamaru entered the room. "Is that there was a lot of blood, but no body, no marks indicating incineration. We should move forward with the belief that he escaped and is alive. . . Somewhere."

"I'm sure he is alive," Shikamaru said with a conviction that had most occupants of the room look at him with questioning gazes, waiting for him to elaborate.

"Think about it," he said. "This woman would have no reason to label him a Missing-Nin with a kill on sight order, if he weren't alive still. He eluded her, and now she is limiting the damage he can do to her campaign, by making it so no one will believe whatever accusation he has to make.

"The entire village is dripping with the disappointment his apparent dissertion caused. If he attacked her, he would be playing right into the lie she's created."

"It's a flimsy lie, though," Konohamaru said. "We did just check his bingo book entry. There are no crimes listed."

"Jounin and Anbu are the only shinobi with access to the detailed reports. They make up the minority of Konoha, and of its shinobi forces. Even if his crimes are never clarified, the damage has been done," The Commander said. "We need to tread lightly, or we may find ourselves in Hatake's shoes."

"What do you suggest we do?" Genma asked.

"Someone who is of Jounin rank and who has a closer relationship to both Hatake and Tsunade-sama should ask her for the details," the Commander said. "If this woman is to avoid suspicion, she will give answers to those closest to Tsunade-sama."

"Only in theory," Shikamaru muttered.

"It's worth a try," Genma said. "Naruto fits the category."

"Bad idea," Yamato said, well aware of the tension that still hadn't left the Kyuubi container. Despite the subdued expression on his face, Naruto was far from calm. "This is affecting him too deeply, and Naruto has never had an aptitude for subterfuge."

"What then?" Raidou said. "The only other Shinobi who fits the bill is Shizune. And she's in a coma she may never wake from."

Genma bristled and turned his face away from his friend. No one missed the pained grimace that flashed across his face.

"Sorry. . ." Raidou said, his tone and expression apologetic. "I didn't mean to be so blunt."

"It's the truth, though," Genma said and tried to give his old friend a quick smile to show there were no hard feelings.

Silence fell on the group like a heavy hammer.

Shikamaru was analyzing everything he knew about the situation, about possible situations if they acted in a certain way. The outcomes would differ, could lead to success, or could lead to death. If it was as bad as they described, the woman would have no qualms about eliminating anyone she deemed a threat. There were too few available options, and too many variables. It was a difficult problem to solve.

"I'll ask her."

Shikamaru's thoughts were broken by the determined voice coming from his right. He looked at Konohamaru as the young man stood. His face was the picture of focus in the face of danger.

"I'll do it," he said again, nodding as his confidence grew. "Naruto is my bro. I'll tell her I'm asking for his sake. That he's tore up because Kakashi is a very important person to him, and that he needs to understand what Kakashi did in order to move past the crushing disappointment of his defection.

"I'll tell her that Kakashi was one of my uncle Asuma's best friends, and that I need to know if I've been wrong about him all this time."

Yamato raised a hand to his chin and glanced at everyone around him. Iwashi was slowly nodding while staring at the floor, and Raidou scratched the side of his nose while he stared up at the roof in thought.

"It could work," Genma said. "It's risky, but it could work."

"Less risky than sending Naruto to do the digging," Shikamaru said.

"The risk is irrelevant," The Commander said. "It's our best option, and it has to be done if we are to have proper intel to work with. Knowing why she declared Hatake a Missing-Nin is not the end goal here, surely. If we're to dispell this interloper from our Hokage we'll need to work in the shadows and build up our forces. To do that we'll need good, strong shinobi who will believe in Hatake's innocence, and not attack him on sight once we find him.

"Get the info, Sarutobi-san," the Commander ordered.

"Yes, sir," Konohamaru said. He was so pumped that he started moving towards the barrier.

He was jerked to a stop as Yamato grabbed hold of his scarf.

"Easy tiger," Yamato said, a small grin spread across his face. "Not right now. Tomorrow. It's getting late, and I doubt a house call would get you in her good books."

"Yeah," Genma laughed. "Make an appointment with her in the morning."

"Are you sure we should send him?" Iwashi narrowed his eyes. "Subterfuge is about patience. He doesn't look like the most patient of shinobi to me. . ."

Konohamaru scowled as a blush rose to his cheeks.

"I get it," he said. "I'll calm down, I'll be patient, and I won't mess it up."

"Good," the Anbu Commander said. "Because you only get one shot."

It was an ominous warning, but Konohamaru saw the truth in it.

"Yeah," he said. "I know."

-0-

He remembered heat.

He remembered dust.

He remembered the smell and taste of his own blood.

But most clear of all, he remembered the pain. With it came a face, pink brows pinched with worry and fear. After that he remembered visions of friends, old and new. Hallucinations, thought the small, unaffected part of his mind.

The searing heat remained, and so did the suffocating pressure in his chest. But then it all cleared away, and the only thing left was darkness.

Kakashi opened his eyes. The crusty remains of his long sleep clung to his lashes. He brought a hand up to rub it away, immediately aware of how weak his arm felt. He also couldn't see his hand in front of his face.

It's only pitch dark, he told himself. Unwilling to entertain the idea that he might have gone blind. He pushed the panic down and tried to sit up. He grunted with the effort. To his right he felt a wall, and with a mighty effort he moved to lean his back against it.

This simply won't work, he thought as he tried to catch his breath. He'd only sat up and shifted position slightly, but he felt like he'd run for days.

A commotion somewhere to his right caught his attention. He held what little breath he had and waited. He was too weak to fight, but he balled his hands into fists anyway. Weak as he felt, he would not go down willingly.

He followed the soft shuffles as they moved to his left side, still holding his breath, and still on edge.

"I would start breathing if I were you."

Kakashi exhaled loudly.

He gulped in fresh air, the relief he felt only overshadowed by the weakened state of his body.

"Sakura," he finally managed to say. A dim light came to life opposite him. He was sweating, but his panicked heart beat was calming.

Sakura picked up the lantern and moved closer to him. Low as the light was, he did not miss the dark shadows under her eyes. He wondered how long she had been watching over him. Long enough for him to heal, he knew. Kakashi no longer felt any pain, but the weakness was worrisome.

"You shouldn't move around too much," Sakura said. "Your haven't recovered enough yet."

"Why do I feel so weak?" Kakashi asked. "I've never felt anything like this. Not even during my worst case of chakra depletion."

"She targeted your chakra, made it attack itself."

"What do you mean?" Kakashi didn't understand. How could his own life energy be turned against him?

"She forced her chakra into your body. And as your own chakra fought against the invasion, her chakra warped yours to behave aggressively towards your own body. It primarily affected your lungs and immune system.

"That's why you feel so weak. That's why you're so out of breath," Sakura ran the back of her hand across her forehead. "The physical damage was easy enough to heal, but the chakra manipulation was a different beast. You almost died."

Kakashi processed her words. He took in her unkempt hair and tired posture. She went through hell trying to keep him alive, he realised.

"Thank you," Kakashi said. It was all he could say. What else did you say to someone who went to such extraordinary lengths to keep you safe?

Sakura met Kakashi's eyes. He could tell, by the small smile and teary eyes, that she understood how deep his gratitude went.

They sat quietly for some time.

Breathing didn't become any easier, so Kakashi took in his surroundings to distract himself. They were in a cave, he realised when he saw the rock formations on the far side, and the tree roots sticking through the ceiling. There was a stack of blankets against the far wall, and a few pillows. There were scrolls rolled up and stowed into a shoddily put together bookcase next to it. There was a dish, a bowl, chop sticks and a spoon. A mug.

Kakashi frowned.

She didn't live in that cave, did she?

"Uh, Sakura?"

"Hm?"

"Where. . . exactly are we?"

"My hideout," she answered without hesitation.

"Your hi—"

Kakashi's eyes caught the scrolls again.

Scroll.

She took the scroll.

Kakashi's eyes widened in panic as his heart beat sped up again. "The scroll!" Kakashi exclaimed as his already labored breathing became worse. "She took the scroll!"

Sakura leapt to her feet, her eyes showing great concern as she quickly moved towards him. "It's ok," she said. "Calm down, breath slowly."

"Scroll," Kakashi said as he allowed her to position him back on the ground. She raised his arms above his head and placed a glowing hand on his chest, trying to soothe his aching lungs.

"I destroyed the one on my end," Sakura said. "She can't reach us."

Kakashi's eyesight tunneled into an oncoming blackout, but he calmed at her words. Breathing became easier as Sakura continued her jutsu, and his vision cleared again.

"I can't keep this up indefinitely," Sakura said. "Your blood isn't absorbing enough oxygen on it's own yet. Your breathing at rest should be back to normal within a few more days. But your lungs will continue to struggle until you rebuild its capacity."

"Are you saying that my fitness has been completely ruined by that woman's invasive chakra?"

"You're lucky," Sakura sighed, but smiled softly. She understood the irritation. A man like Kakashi prided himself on being fit and ready for duty at all times. Feeling like an invalid would no doubt frustrate him to no end.

"How is this lucky?"

"It should have killed you," Sakura's smile slipped off her face.

Kakashi stilled and just focused on breathing. Having to rebuild his strength was a small price to pay for being alive still.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"For what?"

"If I offended you. . ."

Sakura tilted her head and smiled down at him. "You didn't."

"You saved my life, kept vigil over me, and I behave like a bitter brat."

"Hm, you've never been a great patient," she agreed.

Despite the dark bags beneath her eyes, the mirth in them was unmistakable. He smiled and scrathced his chin.

Beard. Too long, never been that long.

"How long was I out for?" Kakashi asked.

"About a week and a half, I think."

"You're unsure?"

"In the beginning I couldn't be certain how much time passed while watching over you. No natural light gets in here, you see, so it was difficult to tell."

"I do see. . ."

Kakashi eyed her with a strange, thoughtful expression, but didn't say anything. He kept glancing away from her, only to regard her with that same, curious look moments later.

"What?" She frowned, finally unable to take the weird look he was giving her.

"You removed my mask," he said, tone that of a petulant child.

Sakura sighed and covered her eyes with a hand as she slumped down next to him. Her other hand stayed in place, still helping his lungs along.

"It was either remove the mask, or let you drown in your own blood. I figured you'd rather live. And once it was off, well. . . Are you angry?"

Kakashi heard the insecurity in her voice. He had to smile. It was so Sakura.

"No," he said. "I'm not angry."

Kakashi turned his head to look at Sakura. She had her eyes closed. It was very apparent how tired she was. And yet she was still using her chakra to help him.

"Sakura," he said.

"Hm?" She hummed her acknowledgement.

"Stop."

She opened her eyes and regarded him with a frown.

"Stop what?"

"This," Kakashi pointed to the glowing hand still on his chest. "Stop healing me. You're exhausted."

"It's fine," she said. "I have a lot of chakra left."

"Really?" The skepticism in his voice was clear.

"Yes," she scowled. "I've just not been sleeping. . . at all, really. But my chakra is fine."

Kakashi's own frown deepened. Had his condition really been so dire that she didn't dare sleep? And had she really been cooped up in this dark cave with his unconscious form for a week and a half? Had she left at all? He'd only been awake for a short time and already the enveloping darkness of the cave was getting to him.

He needed to see sunlight.

"Sakura?"

"Hm?"

"Do you know what time of day it is?"

"Probably early morning. . . maybe before dawn, maybe after," her eyes were closed again.

"Do you think we could go outside?" he asked, hopeful that she'd agree. "As wonderful as stalagmites and stalactites are, I'm quite fond of trees and grass. . . and sunlight."

She chuckled.

"Me too," she sighed as she sat up. The glow from her hand disappeared and she removed it from his chest. "I suppose it's ok. Your blood has a healthy level of oxygen at the moment. I think you can make it outside."

"Is it far?" Kakashi noticed that he was breathing much more easily, and his limbs didn't feel as heavy anymore.

"About a hundred meters, down that tunnel," she pointed to the corner and Kakashi saw the small opening in the wall. He'd have to crouch down to get through it.

Sakura stood and picked up the lantern. She ducked her head through the opening, and turned back to face him.

"You coming?"

"Of course," Kakashi said as he pushed himself to his feet. It was an effort, but at least he wasn't breathing hard anymore.

The tunnel eventually opened wide enough for Kakashi to walk upright. He heard the loud roar of crashing water before he saw the veil of liquid cascading down in front of the tunnel's exit.

"This is very cliche, Sakura," he said, unable to keep the smile out of his voice.

"What is?" She turned back to look at him, a single brow raised.

"A hideout behind a waterfall. . . really?"

"Shut up," she laughed. "I'll have you know that this is a natural cave. I just found it, and it was too perfect to pass up."

"Mhm," Kakashi clearly didn't believe her.

Sakura shook her head, rolled her eyes, and kept walking. Kakashi laughed quietly as he followed her.

The sun hung low on the horizon when they stepped out into the light of dawn. The grassy outcrop of rock next to the waterfall seemed like a good place to sit down. A canopy of leaves extended over them from the tree anchored to the cliff above them. It was a tree unlike Kakashi had ever seen before. Konoha's trees were straight and tall, but the ones in the landscape before him bent fluidly to create all kinds of interesting shapes. No two trees looked alike. But what was perhaps most interesting about these trees, was the yellow leaves. There were no green leaves in sight.

"Where are we?" Kakashi asked.

"Far, far away from Konoha," Sakura said.

"That doesn't answer my question," Kakashi was blunt, his tone laced with a touch of annoyance. He was tired of the mystery.

Sakura took a deep breath, for a moment relishing in the fresh morning air. She lay down on the grass, interlocked her fingers across her stomach, and looked up at the branches and leaves above her.

"We are about ten thousand kilometers east of Fire Country."

It took Kakashi four seconds to absorb and understand what she said.

"Ten thousand?"

"Yes."

"How? No one from the Five Nations has ever crossed the great eastern ocean."

"Then I must have been the first," Sakura kept staring at the canopy, her eyes half closed as she relaxed. "And you must be the second then."

Kakashi lay down and mimicked her position.

"A week and half, you say. . . I guess the only question I can ask now is; What kind of transportation technique did you use to get us ten thousand kilometers from where that woman ambushed me? And where did you learn it?"

Sakura peeked at him from the corner of her eye before turning back to the leaves. She watched the patterns of light and shadow dance as the leaves gently swayed in the breeze. She really loved the rustling sound the leaves made. . .

"I used a space-time ninjutsu."

"Like Hiraishin?"

"Hm, not really. I don't need a marker. And it's not merely a displacement of myself through space and time."

"Then what is it?" Kakashi was intrigued. He turned and looked at Sakura. In the daylight he could clearly see that she looked older than the other twenty year old women of her generation. Something occurred to him then. "You used Creation Rebirth to save my life."

She didn't look at him when she said, "It was the only way to save you."

"By shortening your own?"

"It doesn't work that way."

"What do you mean?" Kakashi hesitated. "The principle of the technique is to quicken cell division and regeneration, to restore to an uninjured state almost instantaneously."

"Exactly," Sakura said.

"Then. . ." Kakashi trailed off, then laughed. "Oh, I am an idiot."

"No, you're not."

Kakashi could hear the smile in her voice. "I am. I was the injured one. You transferred the technique onto my body. All you lost was some chakra."

"That's right."

"So, how many years did I lose to this near death experience?"

"Oh, it's less than you'd think," Sakura said. "Only a few weeks, really. Two months at the most."

"Really?"

"Yes," Sakura smiled again. "You lost about as much time as a wound would take to heal unaided by medical ninjutsu. Except, now you don't need to go through all the physical therapy that comes after. I did my best to preserve your muscle mass. Once your lungs fully recover, it shouldn't take you too long to regain your former level of fitness."

"Thank you," Kakashi said.

"Any time."

"So," Kakashi paused, wondering if she would answer his next question. She seemed relaxed, maybe she would. "How many times have you used Creation Rebirth on yourself?"

Sakura turned her head to him, and regarded him with a thoughtful gaze.

"That obvious, huh?"

"You're twenty," Kakashi said. "I haven't seen in you four years, so of course you would look older. But this is older than I would have expected. All your peers. . ."

He stopped talking. Kakashi didn't want to offend her. He knew how woman could get once you started talking about their looks in any way that could be construed as negative. But to his relief, she only smiled.

"I would have commented on it during our first meeting, in that cabin," Kakashi said. "But I had other things on my mind at the time. Seeing you again after so long. . . I was overwhelmed."

"Me too," Sakura whispered.

They lay quietly for a time, listening to the wind, each lost in their own thoughts.

"I've lost count," Sakura said. "But, I've had to use it enough times that my body's regeneration was sped up by five years."

Kakashi's eyes widened. What the hell was she caught up in.

"She's hunting me," Sakura said, and Kakashi could only remain quiet as a mouse, in the hopes that she would continue to elaborate. "That's why she went after you, after the scroll. I took a risk and I nearly got you killed. I'm so sorry.

"I just. . . It was getting too hard. . . to be by myself. And then in one selfish action I. . ."

Sakura trailed off. Kakashi was still watching her intently, and he could see that she was beginning to clam up again.

"You what?" He gently prompted.

She turned to look at him. Guilt shown in her eyes. "I think I led her to Konoha. She didn't know where I came from until I. . . until I sent that scroll to Konoha."

"I'm glad you did," Kakashi said with conviction. "It is not your fault that she's infiltrating Konoha. It's not. You deserve to have our support. You deserve to have a life."

Sakura smiled at him, but it was a sad smile. "Is that so," she said before turning her head away from him to look up at the leaves again. "Is that so. . ." She repeated softly.

"Of course," Kakashi said.

She didn't respond.

Kakashi was missing something. He just knew it.

"Are you hungry?" Sakura asked quite suddenly.

Kakashi hadn't paid his stomach much mind since he woke. But now that she mentioned it, the hunger settled in his gut.

"Quite," he said.

Sakura sat up and stood. She brushed off her dirt-stained pants and turned to face him.

"Stay here," she said. "I'll be back soon with some fish and fruit."

She vanished into thin air.

Kakashi sighed and wondered, for what felt like the millionth time, what sort of trouble Sakura was caught up in. He feared he may never find out. He didn't mind not knowing, just as long as Sakura could escape from its clutches.

-0-

Konohamaru sat outside Tsunade's office. He was ten minutes early for his appointment, and he could feel the butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

He needed to calm down. If she suspected anything, he would find himself in an early grave.

It took him all morning to calm his mind and rehearse what he was going to say. Now, if only the nervous pit in his stomach would go away.

He leapt to his feet when the door opened. Tsunade strolled out with a stack of files. She stopped when she saw him.

"Ah, Konohamaru. You're early!" She said.

"Yeah," he laughed and scratched the back of his neck. "For the Hokage, I figured it's better to be early than late."

"Good man," she said. "I need to hand these files off, but I'll be back soon. You can go inside and wait."

Konohamaru smiled and nodded. He watched her walk away, and could not stop the sigh that escaped him. He needed to calm down.

Tsunade's newly constructed office looked exactly the same as the one that had been destroyed in the explosion. Portraits of the previous Hokage lined the wall, just as it always had. Even the desk was the same.

Konohamaru walked over to the chair in front of Tsunade's desk and sat down. He started tapping his fingers on the armrest, willing time to go by faster. The sooner Tsunade returned, the sooner he could get his task behind him.

Patience, he reminded himself.

It wasn't long until Tsunade returned. She moved in behind her desk and sat down. She rested her elbows on the wood and interlocked her fingers.

"So, what can I do for you today, young Sarutobi?"

Konohamaru sat up straighter and took a deep breath. His mission was about to begin. If all went well, he'd walk out of there with new information. And if it didn't go well. . . he probably wouldn't be walking out of there at all. But Konohamaru couldn't afford to succumb to the pressure. He squared his shoulders, drew his brows into a serious line, and started talking.

"I went to look at the Bingo book two days ago," he said. "You know, after the announcement about Kakashi-sensei. . . I wanted to know what he'd done to. . ."

Konohamaru rubbed the back of his head and looked at the floor, doing his best to put on a look of saddened disappointment.

"I didn't know you were close to Hatake," Tsunade said.

"Well, not really," Konohamaru said. "But he was one of my uncle Asuma's best friends. Growing up, I saw him a lot. I secretly had some hero worship thing going. . . Don't tell anyone though. It's kind of embarrassing. Especially now. . ."

A blush spread across his face, and he gave himself a mental high five for pulling that one off.

"That's not all, though," he continued. "Uzumaki Naruto is like a big brother to me. He and Kakashi-sensei were really close, and. . . Well, Naruto has been very upset about the whole thing. I think what bothers him most is that he doesn't know what Kakashi-sensei did. Him becoming a missing-nin goes against everything he ever taught Naruto.

"I know sometimes stuff like this is need-to-know, but knowing what he did would really help us to understand why Anbu's been given a kill on sight order on him. So we can move past it all, you know?"

"Hm," Tsunade hummed.

Konohamaru sat in his chair, resisting the urge to fidget under the Hokage's intense gaze. His eyes drew to her hand, where she was twirling a pen between her fingers. It definitely was not something Tsunade was known to do. He glanced out the window instead, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"I didn't want to cause a panic," Tsunade finally said.

"Why would people panic?" Konohamaru looked at her again, and tilted his head in true confusion.

"I'll tell you, if you promise me that the only other person you'll tell, is Naruto."

Konohamaru nodded his head. "I promise," he said, trying to not sound too eager.

"The village will know in time," Tsunade said. "But damage control must be done before I make the details public. I am working with the Daimyo to stabalise the situation as soon as possible. Until then, this must stay secret. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama," Konohamaru said and bowed where he sat.

"Good," Tsunade said. Then, after a long suffering sigh, she spoke words that had Konohamaru fuming within, and without. He knew she could see the anger in his eyes. He only hoped that she could not see that it was directed at her, at the demon controlling Tsunade-sama's every move.

"Konoha's council is dead. Hatake Kakashi murdered them in cold blood."


A/N: Sorry this one was so late. It's been a rough month for me. A week ago I barely had half of this written. I'm still aiming for an update every two weeks, but delays like this might be more common.

Also, this chapter Konohamaru snuck his way in. I quite like him. I think he'll show up again.

Last thing; Thanks for the reviews. I read them all. I haven't responded to any regarding the last chapter (I think), but I sincerely appreciate every single one, and I am glad you're enjoying the story.