Chapter 12: Clarity

Kakashi often prided himself on being able to think on the spot, fabricate stories and pull together loose threads in an instant. After all, even he couldn't deny his own genius. But there were a few instances in which he was left scrambling to catch himself before he slammed face-first into the pavement. Such as when Sakura had metaphorically snatched the carpet right from beneath him in the hospital room and left him gaping like a fish out of water.

She may have invaded his thoughts, and she sure as hell had seized his heart; maybe irreversibly, and although he liked to fantasise about at least being with her, he hadn't considered that seriously at all. Mostly, he just didn't believe a young, beautiful thing like herself would give him the time of the day. He thought of himself as a jaded old man.

Twenty-four hours had passed since then and his high slowly wore away with time. Had she been joking? What if this was her way of teasing him? She didn't really consider it a real date… did she?

Kakashi had the urge to let out an audible groan, but he had a feeling that would send the only other person in the hospital's waiting room —an old woman with greying hair, eyeing him nervously above her book— scrambling for her life. He knew he was intimidating but seriously, was he that scary?

Her eyes darted left and right in apparent distress, and finally, settled on something behind his shoulder. When it lingered there, he curiously followed her gaze and saw Sakura standing by the door in the simple red civilian dress he brought her, skin still sickly pale and looking a little too thin. But then their eyes locked, and his shoulders relaxed because despite everything, her eyes were still the same shade of vibrant green.

Getting up on stiff feet, Kakashi approached her with almost timid steps. He was torn between wanting to keep his distance and hugging her to confirm that she was indeed safe and whole. At the end, he did neither. "Sakura. Ready to go?" he asked; sotto voce.

He could still feel the old woman's eyes burning into his back as the rosette nodded and fell into step with him, drifting closer to his side than he thought was socially acceptable for friends, but was that even what they were at this point? He shoved that thought out of his mind.

He had hurt her. The image of it was burned vividly into his brain: tears cascading down her cheeks, her pained cry as his jutsu tore through her, too, and her head colliding with the pavement as she landed roughly on her side. None of it was avoidable but knowing so didn't make him feel any better.

He didn't want her to smile at him in that endearing way of hers every time he allowed his head to turn in her direction; he didn't think he deserved it. To make matters worse, his hand still throbbed dully with the ache to touch her. He wanted to let the back of his fingers brush softly over her cheek, to tilt her chin up, kiss her, and find out if her lips tasted as good as they looked - if they were as warm or as soft as the rest of her. And every time she smiled, it grew a little harder to resist doing so.

The wind was slightly on the chilly side today and he was grateful for substituting his usual top and jounin vest with a cotton, white t-shirt and a black leather jacket. He supposed he did look rather intimidating when the mask was added to the mix. His hiati-ate was absent today so perhaps the woman from the hospital room hadn't known he was a ninja.

He pondered these thoughts to distract himself off his company— who had to go ahead and shiver, forcing his attention back to her despite his efforts.

Well, there goes his jacket. He smiled ruefully as he shrugged it off and presented it to her; if it had been anyone else he would have made them pay for it dearly . Sakura stared at him with wide green eyes as they slowed to a stop and he wrapped her in it. "Here. No more shivering." He ignored the way her blush made his stomach knot and focused instead on rubbing his hands along her arms to capture her warmth.

"T-thank you," she stammered, flushing a deeper shade of pink, making her sallow cheeks look slightly more healthy and lively.

Kakashi decided losing his jacket had been worth it after all, for the way she was looking at him now was like a scene straight out of one of his fantasies. "Don't mention it."

They walked in silence, a mood similar to the darkened skies settling over their surroundings. Kakashi could practically smell the coming rain, not that the swollen clouds above weren't enough indication.

Kakashi wasn't particularly disheartened by that; he loved rain. Everything seemed cleaner, fresher. But ultimately, that wasn't where his thoughts were particularly heading. He was in too much of a sombre mood to enjoy the weather.

Starting today, he was to stay with Sakura. Tsunade had decided it was too risky to leave her apprentice unattended when a bunch of crazy scientist killers were on her tail, and concluded her former teacher and team captain should take it upon himself to help protect her. She went as far as stationing Yamato as her watch during the night.

Kakashi was grateful for the extra protection Sakura was receiving, but he had another dilemma: was the attraction between them mutual? Or was it just him slowly losing his mind?

Not that having the answer would make anything less complicated. He had no delusions about the way the public would view a relationship between him and Sakura. His teaching days were a long distant memory forgotten by most, but it was sure to resurface were he to get romantically involved with someone who was once his 'student'. Maybe by name. He didn't kid himself into thinking he was a teacher figure to his only female teammate. The only thing he imparted on her had been teamwork (and he was damn grateful she took that lesson to heart) but if Sakura had a teacher it was, hands down, Tsunade.

The person who had shaped her into the amazing woman she was today— the brilliant kunoichi and unrivalled medic— was none other than the fifth Hokage. He was merely her superior. Well, he was her superior once. Now, they were the same rank but working in different divisions. He in assassination and occasionally tracking; her a medic and a poison expert. And on rare occasions, like the one that passed, they would pair up on an undercover mission. Unsurprisingly, those were the most fun.

Something wet landed on the tip of his nose and his head jerked up in time for another to land on his cheek. The rain was finally here, it seemed. It started as a stuttering spray, drawing small circles on the dry pavement and gradually progressed into a pour that quickly drenched his hair and made it poke into his eyes.

One look at Sakura, at the displeased line of her lips as wet strands fell in her face, at the water droplets sliding down her skin and they were jogging towards her house at a speed that would probably get them a scolding from Tsunade were she to see them since Sakura was prohibited from using her chakra yet. They made it in record time, but by then Kakashi was drenched and Sakura was giggling softly as he shook the water droplets out of his hair in a close imitation of his ninken. The rosette was fairly dry— she had used his jacket for cover - and now she extended her arm to hand it back to him, sopping wet.

Kakashi couldn't even find it in himself to be exasperated, which is how he once again arrived at the conclusion that he had it bad for her. It was more apparent when he nearly followed her into her bedroom; sleeping in the same bed for weeks had gotten him so accustomed to her presence it was a little worrying. Since when was he comfortable sharing someone's intimate space? His mind was too busy running in frantic circles he didn't register the flying towel heading his way until it landed haphazardly on his head.

A moment of silence stretched between them as his eyes shifted in stunned disbelief to meet her minutely shaking figure. A second later, the rosette was holding to the door frame to keep herself up against the force of her laughter. "You— you should've seen— your face—!"

The towel slipped off his head and he had enough presence of mind to catch it in time and save the remaining shreds of his dignity.

Sakura wiped at moist eyes, her cheeks flushed, and tried to look composed as she scolded him. "That could've been a kunai, Kakashi! Jeez, aren't you quite out of it?" A small giggle slipped through her lips at the end of her sentence and she pursed them to stop the no doubt endless stream that fought to burst through, too. "Come on, you should probably dry off before you catch a cold."

He looked at the towel in his hands for a few moments, wondering how the hell he was going to cope with the next few days if it was already this bad at minute one. Kakashi only looked up when Sakura's legs came into his line of sight; long, creamy and very shapely— enough so that he found himself staring.

Kakashi barely held himself from visibly startling when the towel was yanked out of his hold and tossed over his head one more time. "Here, let me."

She fluffed the fabric across his scalp, momentarily blinding him as she rubbed and puffed the towel against his head like one might do a child's. The material lifted, and with it his disorientation, and suddenly he could see again— she was close. That was the first thing his mind noted, so close he could make out the details of her endless green eyes: the brilliant strokes of emerald, gold, and brown, warm and shining with mirth. From his proximity, he could even make out the faint freckles dotting her cheeks and the slight moistness of her lips that made them look enticingly kissable.

She smelled faintly of flowers and fresh water, her natural scent blending almost alluringly with the environment surrounding her, mixing with her body heat to create an intoxicating mix that called him in like a drug. Kakashi was abruptly and thoroughly entranced for perhaps the first time in his life, and without thinking, he reached and carefully tucked a loose strand of slightly damp hair behind her ear. The gesture was too intimate, too soft and affectionate to deny, and Kakashi hurriedly dropped his hand, feeling the strange need to apologise for overstepping his boundaries, but not really regretting it.

Some belated realisation seemed to cross through Sakura's mind then and her eyes hesitantly dropped from his to his masked mouth and lingered there for seconds that seemed to stretch on forever.

Kakashi held his breath. Had they been any other pair in this position, he would've sworn they were about to kiss.

But that wouldn't be the case. Of course not. Could she possibly—

Something soft, plump and pliable pressed against his mouth and it took his all not to freeze up in shock. It was merely a soft lip-brush, but it left him light-headed, and just as Kakashi began to reciprocate, still in a state of bewilderment, Sakura pulled back to smile shyly at him. It was so endearing, so... fragile in a sense, he almost pulled her in for another kiss.

Her quiet voice broke through his desirous train of thought. "Thank you."

"For what?" He was glad he didn't stammer, that would've been embarrassing.

"For bringing me back safely, silly," she said, taking a step back from him. He immediately missed her warmth, but he was too busy pondering when gratitude between the two of them involved a kiss.

She wasn't exactly helping his conception of their upcoming date and how much of a date it was. Feeling as if he might do something increasingly uncharacteristic (like pulling his mask down, tangling his fingers in her hair, and drawing her mouth to his again to show her exactly what a real kiss was like) he shoved his palms in his pockets and returned her smile. "You're welcome."

He hadn't noticed it until it lifted, but Sakura had been nervous to take that step. The slight tension lining her shoulders slowly bled out and the minute tightening around her eyes relaxed. What did all that mean? Kakashi contemplated seriously asking her.

However, a loud bark suddenly echoed from outside, completely shattering the silence, and then the spell broke and Kakashi felt his heart stutter out of rhythm at the implications of their exchange. They hurried into the kitchen, both trying to remain casual, her straight for the fridge and him towards the tea kettle, as if this was the most normal of days.

Unfortunately, he was acutely aware of the blush staining her cheeks as she shuffled mindlessly through her fridge's contents. There was just something about that girl when she blushed that tore away at his self-control. Acting as if he, too, wasn't having a mild heart failure, he set the water boiling and started retrieving cups and tea from the cupboard.

It felt silly that he, the Copy Ninja, was having what some might call 'butterflies'. In fact, he nearly scoffed aloud at the thought. It was strange. He had lusted for women before, but never felt an emotional attachment to them - never craved their affection or their attention. More importantly, he never longed for commitment.

What he felt for Sakura was a strange mix of an overwhelming sense of belonging and want, coupled with nearly unrestrained sexual tension. He wanted to push her against the fridge, plunder her mouth until she was breathless, and sample the taste of her skin just as much as he wanted to hold her, to simply be close to her. Both feelings crashed inside him, overwhelmed him, left him conflicted and strangely at a loss for what to do.

Now that he allowed himself to accept his feelings, it wasn't hard to run unrestrained with his thoughts. Sakura was a gorgeous woman— one that had never been touched, at least not intimately. It made him want to lay her on a bed and thoroughly explore her and show her what she'd been missing. But before he could start to feel shame at thinking of her that way already, the tea kettle let out a whistle and he began to mechanically prepare tea for both of them.

Was it wrong that he wanted her that way, too? What if... what if she felt the same way? At that thought, something like electricity lanced through him. What if Sakura fantasised about him, too? What if Sakura craved his touch and his kiss the way he did hers? Feeling his face grow alarmingly warm, he pushed these thoughts out of his mind for a later date.

When he carried the tea to the living room, he found Sakura had already laid a shirt for him on the couch and was munching on biscuits, seated comfortably in her armchair. He handed her the tea, ignoring the way his heart-fluttered when their fingers brushed. Instead, Kakashi inspected the dark t-shirt with the orange sign that awaited him and sighed at the obvious signature colour. "Naruto?"

Sakura smiled. "What can I say, his clothes are comfy."

"Thief," he teased as he quickly shed his wet shirt and replaced it with the dry one, "Do you steal clothes from everyone?"

A light pink dusted the rosette's cheeks but she shrugged unrepentantly. "Just from Ino and Naruto... and Tenten... and Hinata once... I may also have one of Yamato taichou's vests lying somewhere."

Kakashi snorted and dropped on her couch, gesturing at his discarded shirt as he shook his head ruefully. "I'm never going to see this again, am I?"

Her lips twisted into a shy yet equally teasing smile. "Probably not."

He grinned beneath the mask as he cushioned his head against the armrest and relaxed, pulling Icha Icha out. He really could get used to this.


Sakura's queen-sized bed had never felt colder or emptier before.

She lay tangled in the sheets, twisting restlessly and just unable to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. The absence of the body warmth of a certain person was pronounced in a way it had never been before, and her sheets lacked the comforting, earthy scent that accompanied him. Sakura huffed. It wasn't fair. They'd only shared a room for a little over a fortnight. Why the sudden drastic change?

And yet, when she listened carefully for the quiet, peaceful breaths drifting from just outside her cracked bedroom door, the tense muscles of her shoulders relaxed.

Kakashi was here, sound asleep on her teal-coloured couch, the rhythmic sound of his breathing calming and familiar.

A part of her —the one growing inch by inch the more time she spent in Kakashi's presence— wanted her to get up and wrap herself in his arms to be engulfed by the familiar warmth of his embrace. But Sakura would never do something so scandalous.

However, a few hours later, when she woke up trembling from the after-mirage of her most recent nightmare, she was ready to take that back.

While Sakura sat up and struggled to regulate her breathing, gulping oxygen down as measured as she could get her lungs to cooperate, she heard a soft knock on the door followed by a raspy, "Sakura? Are you okay?"

The door was hesitantly pushed open an inch to reveal Kakashi in the doorway, hair mussed, eyes half-lidded and ever-present mask firmly in place.

Sakura felt her shoulders curve in embarrassment and she looked away, her heart slowing down a beat. "Y-yeah. Sorry, did I wake you up?"

Kakashi let out a soft exhale and invited himself into her room, silently padding towards her bed and settling on the small space beside her. "Bad dream?" he countered, without bothering to answer her question.

Sakura nodded, relaxing further when his fingers gently moved damp hair strands out of her eyes, fingertips brushing briefly across her temple in the process. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Her dream had been just one of the many that involved Kakashi having a very close and vivid brush with death. This time it involved Orochimaru's base and a substitution jutsu that put him between the inhuman creature and Yamato-taichou. What followed was inhumanly elongated nails taking the shape of blades and piercing Kakashi's left shoulder and neck, causing blood to sprout like a river and spray the enemy.

Sakura had no idea what happened next because the horrific sight of Kakashi's neck being all but slit open sent her into a panic so profound it knocked her awake and breathless.

She trembled slightly recalling the still vivid images, goosebumps breaking out across her skin, and her heart began galloping again—

"Hey, shh." The back of his fingers fleetingly brushed across her cheek in a rather uncharacteristically intimate gesture. "You don't have to say anything."

When all Sakura managed was scooting towards the edge of her bed in silent invitation, Kakashi's eyes creased in a familiar smile and slid into the space next to her, back resting comfortably against her headboard and arm wrapping around her shoulder. He massaged the muscle there with sure fingers, kneading out the few knots there until all the tension bled out of her.

Sakura let out a rather miserable sigh and let her head drop against his chest. He was warm and safe and close and gorgeously alive and well and Sakura's heart wanted to both race out of her chest and be lulled into a familiar sense of security.

He broke the silence first. "Hey, Sakura?"

"Hmm?" She grunted, nuzzling his neck in a way that was entirely too comfortable, even for them.

"Can I ask you something?"

His tone made her shoulders tense a little again and she forced them to relax even when her heart started galloping again. "What is it?"

"Have you..." he trailed off, suddenly unsure before he regained the courage to finish his sentence, "have you been having any... weird dreams, lately?"

All oxygen left her lungs in a shuddering exhale. It was like someone poured an ice-cold bucket of water over her head and soaked her through to her bones. There was no hiding the way every muscle in her body tensed as if about to face off an enemy.

It was Kakashi that exhaled sharply then, his fist curling in his lap.

Both remained silent and tense for long moments until Sakura managed to find her voice, swallowing thickly against her tight throat. "W-what do y-you mean?" Her voice hitched slightly as she stuttered over her words, heart banging briskly against her ribcage and sweat beading the back of her neck.

Kakashi slowly clenched and unclenched his fist, straining the tendons hard enough she heard a few joints pop. And then he exhaled again, slow and measured, and Sakura had never found Kakashi particularly frightening since that day she was assigned to him when she was a twelve-year-old genin, but suddenly she felt goosebumps break out across her skin and adrenaline pump heavily through her veins.

She felt sick.

"I mean," Kakashi said slowly, voice deceptively soft, "have you been having strange dreams about me…?"

This was it, Sakura was going to be sick all over her sheets. "Wha— what brought this up?"

Oh gods, oh gods why would he even ask that? What could've clued him?

"Because, Sakura," and maybe it was her imagination, but his voice seemed to waver slightly at her name, "I've been having strange ones about you."

It was that same feeling of cold water being dumped over her head. A wave of dread washed over her and her stomach knotted tightly and uncomfortably. "I'm—" it felt like she had swallowed her tongue "-Wha— what?!"

It was then he turned to look at her, charcoal eyes infinitely darker in the dimness of her room and more vulnerable than she'd ever seen them. "When they first started I didn't pay it much thought until I dreamt of Sasuke leaving you on that bench and I knew then something was weird."

Sakura's hand trembled slightly as she grasped his arm and squeezed it hard if only to steady herself. "Y-you mean— all this time, you've been… you've been having dreams about my past, too?!" Her voice rose in pitch towards the end and a delirious laugh bubbled through her throat as she shook her head in disbelief. "Oh godsoh, no… this isn't happening…"

Sakura hadn't even realised she was talking to herself then, shoulders shaking and on the verge of an anxiety attack.

Kakashi said nothing, facing away from her again. And then... "When you started having constant nightmares, most which seemed to have involved me, I had my suspicions… So it's true, huh?"

Sakura fought to regain control of her breathing, feeling her heart slow down a notch. It was okay… it'd be okay, it had to. So they were both having dreams, big deal! They would just have to talk this out rationally and figure a way to stop those dreams from happening.

When Sakura gave a jerky nod of confirmation, Kakashi let out a dry, bitter laugh. "This explains so much."

Sakura looked at him with wide green eyes and he turned to face her again, his eyebrow arching, "That day in the forest, back on Naka's island when you woke up crying, the many more times you'd start screaming my name in your sleep. You saw me almost die every time did you not?"

Her mouth dried and she swallowed, unable to answer.

"And tonight again, what was it this time?" He carried on, sounding bitter and angry, and Sakura couldn't fathom if it was directed at her or him or some third, equally unreasonable source. "Tell me."

She gathered every ounce of courage she possessed and whispered, "Some ANBU mission with Yamato-taichou… you… you stepped in and the creature c-cut your throat o-open— i-it had really long nails." She paused to swallow against her incredibly dry throat, horrific images flashing behind her now closed eyelids.

She whimpered, helpless to restrain the little distressed sound as she chewed harshly on her lip and buried her face in his shoulder, the tears coming suddenly. "I don't kn-now w-why I have those dreams, K-Kakashi." She hiccuped, praying to any god that was listening that this wouldn't ruin whatever was brewing between them. "But I'm so sorry. I-I'm s-so sorry."

And she was, more than he'd ever know. Not because it felt like it was her own fault, but because she was just incredibly sorry he was laid bare to her like that, stripped of all the shells surrounding him— of the hard walls he used to shield himself from the world. He had suffered more than anyone had any right to, and to have all that pain presented to someone like some messed up movie, it was so unfair.

And then the back of his index and middle finger were brushing tears off her left cheek in soft, soothing strokes that left the skin there burning as he shushed her. "I'm not mad at you, why are you crying?"

"B-because— it's not fair! It's not fair to you!" She grit her teeth as she pulled away to face him with glassy emerald eyes and flushed cheeks, angrily swatting hair out of her face. "You don't deserve t-to-to— to be exposed like that! I didn't do anything to deserve that insight into your life— You've been through so much it's crazy and goddammit Kakashi you're like no other man I've ever met and I'm just so sorry that you didn't have a choice in whether I know!"

He was staring at her with slightly wide, wonder-filled eyes which, for some bizarre reason, sent her into another fit, and her fists started trembling again. "I fucking hate it. Every time I wanted to tell you and I couldn't because I was so scared of what you'd say, Kakashi— I thought I was going crazy! I couldn't tell anyone because a part of me was terrified that those dreams were real and I didn't want to expose you any further!"

"Hey—" his attempts to shush her were brushed aside as she barrelled on, the dam that was holding in her thoughts falling apart, causing everything she'd been swallowing to come rushing out of her mouth as fast as she could talk, with no hopes of stopping it.

"No, listen, you don't understand! Here I was with the knowledge of all this shit you went through in your life, with nothing held back, with every emotion you've felt choking my lungs to suffocation, you, who never failed to be there for everyone even when you were painfully alone your whole life, how is that fair—!"

Sakura's body seized up altogether when fingers tangled in her pink locks and masked lips suddenly met her own, engulfing her mouth in a kiss.

Time seemed to slow down and the quiet nightlife drifting through her window faded into blissful nothingness as his lips moved gently against hers, setting her skin ablaze. It was an innocent kiss, but nothing about it was remotely tame. Neither his sharp intake of breath against her skin nor the shuddering breath that left her when they parted broke through the loud pounding of her heart in her ears.

Her eyes remained firmly shut, blissful, disbelieving because Kakashi had just kissed her and it made her toes curl and it was a real kiss unlike the peck she had given him that morning and oh gods, he kissed her

Something soft, warm, and incredibly smooth met her lips and she gasped, her eyes snapping wide open in shock to be met by the sight of Kakashi's closed ones and what she could see of his exposed nose at this angle.

Warmth like nothing she'd ever felt before enveloped her chest, and her stomach twisted pleasantly as Kakashi's fingers twisted in her hair, fisting the strands and he slanted his mouth hotly over hers, turning what was previously an innocent kiss into something scalding and wonderful. Her eyes shut tightly as his tongue swiped across her lower lip and poked into her mouth to caress hers experimentally.

Sakura exhaled sharply through her nose as she tasted him on her tongue, his breath fanning across her skin like fire. Her hands fisted the hem of his cotton t-shirt and tugged, barely swallowing a moan against the toe-curling, stomach-flipping, dizzying, absolutely exhilarating sensation of his mouth on hers. And it was like she was falling, falling, falling to a world of emotions so profound they left her light-headed.

There was nothing quite like kissing him. It was hard to explain but it felt strangely like coming home. Like her whole life was planned event by event, moulded and shaped into what it was to lead up to this specific moment in time, with them in her bed, engulfed in the three a.m. darkness, his fingers lost in her hair the way her breath was lost in her lungs.

It all came to her with sudden, frightening clarity— that this was what she wanted, where she belonged. She wasn't a lost girl feeling around blindly in the dark, she could see it now, that by some crazy, inexplainable force of nature he was destined for her. And it scared the shit out of her. But it stood that she could have kissed him forever and some more and been content with it.

When they parted, not only were her lungs screaming for air but her skin from head to toe was flushed and tingling, and her head was spinning alarmingly fast.

Kakashi's lips pressed one last peck at the corner of her lips, followed by another on her cheek and finally on her temple over the arch of her brow. He paused to deeply inhale the scent of her shampoo and then exhaled slowly. "Maybe this is something bigger than the both of us that's causing this."

That wasn't hard to believe seeing as a kiss from him had nearly reduced her to an incoherent mess of emotions while simultaneously making her feel like she was seeing for the first time in her life.

His thumb brushed across her cheekbone in a soothing motion and he pulled her to his chest so that her forehead rested against his shoulder.

"Hmm." Sakura hummed her agreement, a feeling of contentment settling in her bones as she relaxed against him. "…now what?"

She felt him smile against her temple, bare cheek against her head. "Now we see where this leads us."


Word Count: 5,300 words

Guess who's still alive. Hi guys, I know it's been about four months but they're been absolutely insane four months. After returning from vacation I got busy with uni, and then my mother had an accident which left me with a lot of work, and then a family member got hospitalised and suffers from brain cancer. These are just the main events.

Now this chapter... I hate this chapter. Not only because I wrote five different versions of it with five different scenarios but because I had reread it no lesser than ten times and, yeah, I hate it.

Despite that, I hope you enjoy this. It's a bit slow paced but I needed to get the dreams out of the way for now!

If you have any questions or comments, drop me a line. You can also find me on Tumblr: bouncyirwin.

Thank you for the amazing feedback I've recieved for this story so far, I really never imagined this little project of mine would get so much love. I'm eternally grateful!

Songs:-

1) Remember Who I Was - James Arthur

2) Kiss Me - Ed Sheeran

Beta'd by the best of the best: Denilmo.