Sakura leaned back in the armchair, rubbing her eyes as Ino came back into the room with a tray of steaming mugs. She had been at her friend's apartment for hours now, answering question after question, each one of her responses recorded meticulously by Ino in a spiral notebook with flowers doodled on the cover.

The plush velvet furniture was starting to make Sakura's butt uncomfortably warm despite the chilly autumn weather outside. The clock on the wall read two hours past noon. Hopefully, Kakashi was still in the hospital where she had left him that morning, but she harbored no doubts that he would escape as soon as he could stand.

She rested her cheek in the palm of her hand, tapping her fingertips below the delicate skin of her eye. The Yamanaka clan had a keen interest in what had gone down in the jutsu. Sakura was just glad that they had sent her friend for the interview, rather than a stranger, but she still couldn't help dodging the answers to some of the inquiries. Too personal. Too close to Kakashi. Ino's blue eyes narrowed everytime she sensed that Sakura wasn't giving the full story, though thankfully, she didn't push. Maybe Ino understood that it was not Sakura's place to describe parts of what she had seen.

However, sometimes Sakura couldn't answer because…she just wasn't sure. She often had to ask herself what she had actually experienced versus what she thought might have happened.

When Sakura confessed this, Ino tilted her head as she read over what she had written down. "It makes sense that your memories are becoming unclear. From what you described, it confirmed to me how intense the illusion within the jutsu could be." She placed the tip of the pen into the margin where she doodled a star. "The disorientation could just be a coping mechanism from the strain."

Sakura frowned. "But what about Kakashi then?" He had been in the jutsu for longer than her. Nobody knew by how much.

Even now, he could barely open his eyes for more than five minutes at a time. The effort it took drained him terribly.

After a while, Sakura was able to beg off more questioning for another day. Although there was nothing she wanted except to fall face first into her bed, she dragged herself back to the hospital to check up on Kakashi.

The rubber soles on her shoes squeaked against the floor as she took the first few steps forward in disbelief. Why she was in disbelief, she didn't quite know. This was what she had been afraid of all along.

The room was just as she'd left it that morning except for one glaring difference—the bed was empty, the rumpled sheets left in his wake still warm from the impression left behind by his body. Thin plastic tubes that had once been attached to him dangled uselessly in the air. A sweet, fruity scent lingered against the overpowering odor of disinfectant that permeated the whole building. She had cut an apple and left it on the bedside table in the unlikely case that Kakashi woke and would want a snack. The plastic film over the apples had been peeled back and every slice was missing. At least there was that.

She flushed. Had his inability to remain conscious just been an act? Maybe, but it could also have been that his desire to leave the hospital was great enough that he would force his body to the brink. Either way, she had to find him. Yell at him. Cry. Kiss him, perhaps.

He was clearheaded enough to ditch the tracking tag she had earlier slipped into his pocket. She picked up the tiny chip of painted wood from the ground where she had found it in an alleyway. That idiot. A stream of even less complimentary names followed in her mind without break for pause. If she had said them out loud, she would have died from oxygen deprivation.

She checked his apartment, his favorite tree, Ichiraku—all of the usual places. No one had seen that shock of silver hair for six month, since he left for his mission then. Of course. They had not even been aware of the critical state he had been in. She didn't have time to explain, running off with a hasty apology the second they failed to tell her what she needed.

Her heart began to thump in steady panic as almost two hours passed and she still hadn't found him. The people walking by her in the street went about their day, completely oblivious to her and her crisis. She searched their faces, the paranoid, ridiculous thought occurring to her that maybe Kakashi had donned a disguise. Get a hold of yourself.

Finally, she ran into Tenten, who mentioned that she had spotted Kakashi wandering around the training grounds, but hadn't thought much of it at the time. That was understandable. Kakashi escaping in hospital clothes was something that happened like clockwork. A familiar sight to anyone who knew him even in passing.

Tenten's brows drew together. "He did seem a little…out of it. More than usual."

Sakura managed to thank Tenten before making a beeline for the village gates.

The afternoon light cast long, thin shadows over the training grounds. She nearly broke into tears at the sight of him standing there, tall and gaunt, the clothes hanging off him him making it painfully clear that there wasn't much to his frame at the moment. He had always been lean, but his flesh had never been stretched so tightly over jutting bone before.

"Kakashi?" The name came out of her as a soft whisper, so quiet that it surprised her when his head lifted and turned towards her in response.

His eye creased into a smile as he recognized her. "You're late, for once."

She stopped in confusion. Carefully, she asked, "What do you mean?"

Her hesitation made his smile disappear. "I thought—You told me…" He shook his head, his shoulders hunching as he shrank into himself.

"Come on." She took his hand and he let her guide him back within the walls of the village. His grip tightened with every passing second as he stared off into the distance in silence.

Before she could ask what was wrong, he announced that was hungry. That was a good, even if it might have been a lie. Anyway, she had wanted to make certain that he ate today. He had questionable eating habits whenever he was under stress.

They ducked beneath short curtain flaps hung over the door of a restaurant that seemed to be squashed in between two much larger buildings. The inside was only wide enough for a single row of tables. The patrons and staff alike greeted Kakashi with familiarity and he raised his hand, saying "Yo."

The menu was pasted on the wall on strips of yellowed paper and faded ink. Just a few dishes, less than what Sakura could count on one hand. Thick planks of wood nailed together served as the tables and benches. The floor was little more than hardpacked dirt, but the savory smells in the air were fairly promising. She almost laughed when Kakashi went through the old routine of patting his pockets for the wallet they both knew wasn't there. For once, she didn't begrudge paying for his meal.

They told the cook standing behind the counter in the back what they wanted before sitting down. A man came out of the kitchen shortly after with a tray of tea and their food. Dark brown roots showed through his bleached yellow hair, which was neatly held back by headband. He took one look at Kakashi and grinned. "Hatake, where have you been?"

"I got a little lost, but I'm back now," Kakashi took out a pair of chopsticks from the holder on the edge of the table and handed it to Sakura.

"You don't bring people here." The man eyed her curiously.

"Ah. Is that so? I could have sworn I brought Gai one time."

She gave a little wave. "Hello, I'm Sakura."

"Please to meet you. I'm Ukai," the man quickly informed her before turning back to Kakashi. "You talkin' about that green dude? Once. Two years ago."

Kakashi made a humming noise in the back of his throat as if he didn't agree or disagree with this statement. As if him visiting a restaurant with an old friend was a secret he would take to the grave.

Ukai sighed, shaking his head ruefully, the tips of his blond spikes moving like leaves on a branch. He winked at Sakura. "You're going to have a handful with this one."

"Trust me. I know," she replied, leveling a pretend scowl on Kakashi, although he was pointedly being obvlivious.

"Hospital clothes again, huh?" Ukai plucked the thin cloth of Kakashi's shirt over the shoulder. "At least it's not the one with the open back this time. I had to bleach the bench after you came in a while back."

"Are you serious?" Sakura huffed.

"Escaping is hungry work." Kakashi leaned over his bowl, inhaling the steam rising from the broth.

Ukai chuckled and turned away to refill another customer's tea. Kakashi slurped down the udon noodles, almost choking on them. She pressed her lips together, trying not to laugh. So he hadn't been lying about being hungry after all. "Good?" she teased.

His head moved up and down, his mouth too full to speak. The white medical mask was tucked below his chin. He didn't seem to care or notice.

Sakura smiled to herself, then took her first bite of the noodles. "Wow, why haven't you taken me here before?"

"I guess I've never had a chance."

"You could have mentioned it everytime Naruto decided where we were going to eat. I love Ichiraku and all, but if there was another option, I'd gladly have taken it."

He wagged his finger and clicked his tongue. "I'll tell that to the boss and his feelings will be hurt."

She rolled her eyes. "So this is where you go when you escape from the hospital? Are you sure you want me to know this?"

"I realize it's a be a great trust I've bestowed upon you, but I think you can handle it."

Her mouth opened for a retort when his words registered. She stared at him as a glow of happiness made her feel warm from head to toe. The moment stretched until she realized she had been studying him for longer than was considered polite and she changed the subject.

"You know what I'm kind of sad about?" She stirred her broth with her chopsticks, picking up more noodles. "Itsuko and Sosuke are just gone now, aren't they?"

"…The characters from 'The Royal Romances' series?"

"Yea. They were there, remember?"

"It comes and goes." Kakashi sighed. He rubbed his uncovered eye. "Has it been that way for you?"

"Sort of." She tilted her head, frowning. "But those two were a big part of it." They had been there for the entire journey, in fact. Did he not retain at least that?

"All I can remember is…well, what I can remember isn't much." He shook his head. "Why don't you tell me about it?"

His eye creased in a smile and she found that even though she had seen his whole, unmarked face in the jutsu, this was the one that she prefered. The eyepatch hiding the sharingan. The medical mask casually tugged aside, but ready to hide his face again. This was the face of a man who knew her—really knew her. She could lean over and kiss this face, if she were bold enough.

They ate the rest of their food as Sakura relayed their adventures. Just her favorite parts—the ones that she could remember, anyway. It was different than telling it to Ino. These felt like old, comfortable stories, as good as the ones from the days of Team 7.

"I was a better teacher than you ever were, in my opinion." She snorted after telling him about trying to teach the group chakra control.

"I came here to have a nice meal with you and you attack me like this."

"Itsuko was the best at it. She would have made a great kunoichi."

He chuckled softly. "Write to the author with that idea. Can you imagine the next book?"

They finished eating, but she didn't want to leave him just yet. She deliberately came up with an excuse on the spot, mentioning, "That reminds me—the next book is coming out soon. You need to catch up."

"It's good then that I'll have some down time for a bit."

"Come to my place. I'll give you the ones you need to read still."

On their way to her apartment, they passed by a store where the owner had left the radio on the counter. The catchy beat could be heard through the open door. Kakashi stopped in his tracks.

"What's wrong?" Sakura turned to look back at him.

"This. Song."

She paid it more attention this time, because she hadn't been at all before. Recognition made a smile creep up on her face and she slunk up to him, her voice teasing. "What about it?"

"Booty Hotline," he hissed through gritted teeth.

"Oh, you remember that, huh?"

"I feel like it's the only thing I can remember now."

"Dancing, moving, shake your, shake your booty—" she started crooning, completely gleeful at his irritation.


"—What will it take to take you home with me—" she twirled on one foot, but then he took her by the shoulders and stopped her. Her stomach fluttered, because suddenly his face was so close that he was all that she could see.

"I remember you," he murmured.

"Huh?" Of course he remembered her. They'd known each other for years now. Oh no, was he losing his actual memories because of the strain?

He rested his forehead against hers, closing his eyes. "I remember you fighting for me in there. I remember hearing you call for me. I—I remember trying to call back."

"Kakashi," she said softly, her hand going up to cradle his cheek.

"And yes, I remember that terrible song." He broke into a laugh that she shared with him.

An old woman passing by nodded at them. "Must be nice, being young and in love."

They broke apart, both of their faces red. Sakura's heart hammered hard in her chest. What was that? What did it mean? These kinds of questions continued to plague her all the way back to her apartment.

"H-here they are." She reappeared from her bedroom with the books. Her voice was a tad bit higher than normal.

"Thank you." He took them with both hands, staring at the cover of the one on top. "I suppose I should be going now."

"I mean, you don't have to…I was just going to read over a few of the earlier books tonight…" She fixed her gaze on her bare toes.

There was a pause where she couldn't bring herself to breathe. Then, he said, "Well, if you don't mind the company."

"Oh, I don't!"

After the first night, the ritual they had before started to form again. It wasn't always reading. Sometimes, Sakura would bring work home and Kakashi would just happen to have takeout to share. Or she would go to his place and they would get into a heated debate about theories on the book. Theories that no longer had to do with what would happen in the 'canon' of the story, but what might have been if the characters had been living in different situations.

On a particularly lively evening, they basically wrote a story based on the idea of Itsuko being a kunoichi rather than a priestess. They spent hours in her kitchen, going back and forth with suggestions until late into the night. Sakura declared that it was so brilliant they should just change the names and try to get it published. She tapped the pages of their scribbled notes with a smile.

Kakashi grinned back, dragging his chair closer to get a better look. There was hardly any space between them. When she noticed his gaze flick to her lips with interest, she held her breath.

Her treacherous mind would not let her forget that she had kissed him when they had been inside the jutsu. She hadn't known how to bring it up. Besides, what would she have said? That she realized she had fallen in love with him when they had both been stuck inside his mind?

Their eyes met and she made her decision. She leaned in slowly, although there wasn't much of a gap left to close, giving him the chance to pull away.

He didn't.

Their lips brushed together, the slight touch sending sweet tingles through her body. When his mouth opened, she deepened the kiss, sighing happily as she felt his hands encircle her waist and draw her closer to himself.

She slipped his shirt over his head. The need to feel his skin beneath threatened to burn her from the inside out. He had, thankfully, almost returned to his normal weight in the weeks since he left the hospital. Still a bit too thin, in her opinion, but she relished rise and fall of his muscles, tensing beneath her touch.

Then there was a twinge in her neck from the odd angle she had it in. She pulled back with a wince. "I'm getting a cramp. Couch or bed?"

"Bed," he managed to say while pressing his lips against her throat at the same time. She hooked her fingers into the waist of his pants, pulling him to his feet, hips first.

They left a trail of clothes that led to her room. She pushed him back onto the mattress, climbing over him, planting kisses as she moved up his body until she reached his face. Both of his eyes were visible now that his forehead protector was gone, the normal gray pupil and the sharingan. It reminded her a little too much of her battle with the specter, when she had taken off the mask and discovered a younger version of Kakashi beneath. There was still so much she didn't know about him.

It occurred to her as she watched him turn his head, muffling his groan into the pillow as she rolled her hips down, that she may never know as much as she needed to about him. He interrupted her thoughts, flipping their positions, asking if she was ready.

She nodded, moaning as he pushed himself inside her fully and he strangled out something incoherent in conjunction with her name.

Her hips lifted and she clawed at the sheets because he remained still over her. "Move!"

"Sorry." He braced himself against the headboard, his jaw clenched. "It's been a while."

"Yea, me too—which is why I'm going to need you to collect yourself very soon."

He nuzzled her throat, chuckling. "I like how demanding you are in bed." A slow, languid thrust that left her whimpering for more. "Is this better?"

"N-not enough." She grasped his upperarms, fingertips digging into the flesh.

He whispered in her ear as he picked up his rhythm, wonderful, dirty things, encouraging her to voice more of her demands, but she was starting to lose her ability to talk because of him. Finally, she managed to open her eyes through the haze of pleasure. "Just you. I just need you," she gasped, her entire body clenching as she came.

Because it was true. Maybe she never would know everything she needed about him—he did seem to live inside a puzzle box that he had built around himself—but he was enough for her.

He rolled over onto the other side of the bed. Both of them were out of breath. She caught him staring at her, even though he tried to turn away at the last second. His ears were glowing red, not just from exertion, and he had his hand over his face.

"What are you doing?" She giggled as she shuffled closer to him, trying to see what expression he was hiding. Much to her delight, the blush had spread down to his neck and chest.

He surprised her by pulling her in for a kiss that had her looking forward to the next round of sex.

He mumured a few words to her, which her poor, addled mind couldn't process. She blinked. "Come again?" Too late did she realize how that could be taken the wrong way.

Kakashi didn't miss a beat, smiling broadly at her. "Don't worry, you will."

"No, I meant, what did you say?" She rolled her eyes. If her limbs had not gone to jelly, she would have smacked him too.

"I said, 'You're amazing.'"

This time, it was her turn to go red. Both of them lay there, having done quite possibly one of the most intimate acts one could commit with another person, blushing in tandem.

"This means we're dating, right?" she asked, lacing her fingers with his.

"Yea. I think it does."

"Oh no." She started laughing, her shoulders shaking. "What am I going to tell Naruto?"

"Not it."

"That's not how it works!"

Eventually, they figured out how it would work, even if it took them the rest of the night.


note: Thank you so much for sticking with me to the end. I apologize if this chapter was wonky! I did struggle with it (when don't I struggle in this life) but I'm really proud of myself for getting this far. I would really appreciate a review if you could leave one haha. It's what keeps my black heart running. XOXO