A/N: Enjoy guys. Unbeta-ed. Based off the Japanese Myth the Red String of Fate.
There had been so many times that Kakashi had felt strangled by the red string that was meant to determine his soulmate. For most of his life, he'd never been able to see it, but he could always feel it's heavy presence wrapping around his skin in warning. He felt the way it pulled and tangled against his every movement with every step, punishing him for all his failures.
For so many, it came easily, leading two soulmates to the other with little fuss. Kurenai and Asuma had found each other even before they left the academy. It had only taken Hayate and Yugao a few training sessions together to realize what they were to each other. Hell, even Gai had eventually found his soulmate in his enthusiastic student, Lee. The boy was like the son Gai had never had, but Kakashi had never had his string appear.
Despite being told "It will appear if you just open yourself to it," or "Maybe you're just not ready to find your One yet," Kakashi never minded being alone. Being alone was safe. Being alone meant he'd never have to lose anyone again.
Sometimes when he laid awake in bed at night, his mind replayed all the mistakes he'd made, showed him all the people he'd lost in a crisp precision only the sharingan could afford, and he'd feel the string tighten around him. It was paralyzing. He felt like he was suffocating under the weight of it all. Even years after the fact, sometimes he could feel the phantom blood dripping from his red eye or Rin's life-force draining away around the hand he'd pierced through her.
The truth was, he didn't deserve a soulmate. No one deserved to be saddled with him, and those fears were only confirmed when he failed to care for each and everyone of his genin students. They'd all seen he was useless to them despite his best efforts and moved on to better teachers.
Sometimes the invisible strings felt like a sticky web. They clung to him and slowed him, holding him in place when all he wanted to do was desperately escape. Other times, they encircled him like vices and pulled him down, down, down into an abyss of his own making. Sometimes they were so tight, the dug into his skin. They felt so tangible, it seemed like a miracle no one else could see him caught up in them.
He lived that way for so many years, and then one day after the war, after Obito's return and after his true death, they loosened. It happened slowly at first. It was the barest release of tension, but he felt it. Even that small slack felt like the biggest relief after years of it cutting into him. Slowly the red string didn't feel like such a burden. Slowly, he began to understand just why people might be so overjoyed to have someone by their side when he had only seen the bond as a liability before. As he stood looking over Naruto's wedding reception, he couldn't help but feel lighter than he had in a long time.
"It's wild to think Naruto's life has finally settled down long enough for him to find his soulmate, huh?" Sakura's voice drifted over from behind him as he kept his eyes trained on the couple. Even from the distance, Kakashi could make out the little red lines representing the strings imprinted on their fingers. Though only the soulmates could see their individual string, he could imagine the way it linked the two, hanging lightly in the air the way it was meant to.
"No one deserves happiness more than he does," Kakashi's eyes crinkled as he smiled softly beneath the mask. "He's grown up a lot. Hinata and he will be very happy together."
Sakura moved to stand next to him and watched the happy pair chatting animatedly with Kiba. "He's not the same knucklehead ninja he was when he was twelve. That's for sure," she laughed lightly, her fingers subconsciously moving over the smooth red mark that wrapped around her own finger but led to nowhere.
Kakashi's charcoal eyes turned to the pink-haired woman next to him, not missing the longing look in her emerald eyes. "And what about you?"
"Your life has settled too, and that mark has been there ever since the war ended." His eyes shifted from the thin mark to her eyes. "Aren't you curious? Or…" Did she already know who it led to? His thoughts flitted to the goodbye she'd shared with Sasuke when he'd left the village. Perhaps she'd gotten the fairy tale ending twelve year old her had longed for after all.
"You know, it's funny. Once upon a time, I might have been searching frantically for whoever is on the other end of this mark." She held up her hand and turned it in the sunlight, examining the little thing that was supposed to be the key to her happy ending. "But, I just figure there are more important things right now. What about you?"
"What about me?" He deflected like it was second nature. He really should have known better than trying his old tricks with Sakura.
"You know very well what I'm asking," she gave him a reproachful look that walked the fine line between teasing and seriousness. "You've been alone a long time, Kakashi Sensei."
"Kakashi. Just Kakashi. We've been comrades far longer than I was ever you Sensei."
"Don't try to change the subject."
Kakashi would be lying if he said he wasn't slightly amused by how easily she saw through his evasion tactics now. "The truth? My mark's never appeared."
Sakura's brow furrowed in concern, and her gaze moved to where his mark would be if his hand weren't hidden behind a glove and buried in his pocket. "Doesn't not knowing bother you?"
"Not any more than it's bothering you," he shrugged before his eyes were drawn to the loud commotion Naruto and Rock Lee were making by the food table. It wasn't long before shouts about the Spirit of Youth distracted them from any more talk of soulmates or marks.
Life went on.
It wasn't hard for Kakashi to become caught up in his new duties as Hokage. The slow release of the strings' hold on him was something he barely noticed anymore. With every string that fell away came a new feeling of freedom, and soon enough he could barely feel them at all. As much as he thought he'd hate the position of Hokakge, there was something oddly fulfilling about it. For the first time, he experienced a peace he and the ninja world alike had never known. For the first time, people looked up to him, and it didn't instill a sense of self-loathing within him.
Oddly enough, out of the three remaining members of Team Seven, it was the person he'd offered the least guidance to that offered him the most. Sasuke chose to continue to working for Konoha from afar, and when Naruto wasn't preparing for his future seat as Hokage, he was at home caring for a pregnant Hinata. In the years following the war, it was Sakura who became his constant friend and companion, no matter how busy she was running the hospital or her children's clinic.
It wasn't such a rare occurrence for him to find himself slumped over his desk, having fallen asleep after a long day of work. Some mornings he'd wake with dried ink from important papers clinging to his face, but more often than not, he'd be awoken late at night by the smell of tea and take out accompanied by a dazzling smile and warm emerald eyes.
Tonight was one such night.
He'd only meant to close his eyes for five minutes, but when they opened again, night had fallen and a soft laugher stirred him.
"Keep this up, and I'll have to put you on bedrest, Kakashi. Believe it or not, the human body needs proper sleep or it can't function properly."
"Maa, Sakura," He blinked sleepily and slowly lifted his head from his desk. "I've got everything under control. I know my limits." He ignored the rustling of paper by his ear even though he knew very well that something was stuck to his temple.
Sakura merely rolled her eyes when she was met with his signature everything-is-fine eye crinkle and moved around to his side of the desk. "That's a lie if I've ever heard one. Remind me, how many times have you been admitted to the hospital for extreme exhaustion over the course of your career?" She hopped up to sit on his desk and pulled the note paper off of his temple. Faint traces of dried ink remained pressed to his skin.
"That's hardly fair. I was a victim of a dojutsu my body wasn't equipped to handle," he argued halfheartedly more out of habit than trying to prove his point.
"Mhmm." The disbelief was so clear in her voice he could practically hear the deadpanned "bullshit" in her subtext. Still, he was a good patient and held still when she held his chin and tilted his head to better see the ink on his skin.
Before it had been so hard for him to foresee being alright with anyone being this familiar with him, but with Sakura it felt right. He didn't feel any sort of discomfort around her. Instead of hating the touch and care, there was a part of him that ached for it. And yet, he knew he shouldn't. Even if it was only because he knew the mark on her finger proved there was someone out there waiting for her, someone out there who was perfect for her, he knew he shouldn't. It wasn't fair to confuse her just because he'd long ago given up his hope of ever finding his One.
She was so close now, he could feel her warm breath brush against the exposed skin of his face, and any sleep that had clouded his mind was now gone. He could clearly make out the flecks of deeper and lighter greens in her eyes and the little furrow of her brow as she focused on the ink. Her tongue darted out to lick her finger so she could wipe away the black that stained his skin, but all he could focus on were the lips that had pulled his attention.
He could just make out the light sheen of a gloss or balm she'd used not too long ago. Her thumb lightly skimmed over his temple, leaving what felt like a trail of molten lava in it's wake, and before he knew what was happening, his traitor hand moved to loosely encircle the wrist of the hand that held his chin, keeping them connected.
He'd heard stories of what love and attraction were supposed to be. Butterflies in the stomach and a heart hammering against the chest, but right now, he felt perfectly at peace. Time seemed to slow, and if he could stay in that moment forever, he'd be perfectly happy to do it.
He was so caught up, that he hardly felt when she finished cleaning him. He completely missed the way her darkened eyes skimmed his face or how her free hand came to rest against his cheek. He was so, completely wrapped up in her that he didn't snap out of it until her voice pulled him from his trance.
"Kakashi." It came as a whisper on a breath of air, but it snapped his attention back to the present. His eyes jerked up to meet hers which were fixed firmly on his face. A light blush graced across her skin.
He'd been caught.
A sinking feeling spread through him, and immediately, he dropped his hand from hers. "I'm sorry."
He would have pulled away, but her touch kept him close like an inescapable gravity. Her entire being held him spellbound. He was at a loss. He was frozen as she scooted over on his desk to place herself more fully in front of him. Frozen, as her hands moved to deftly untie his hitai-ate from where it sat on his forehead and placed it on the desk beside her. Frozen, as she leaned forward to lightly brush her lips over the hair that now spilled lightly over his forehead.
It was only as her lips moved to brush against his temple that he finally found his voice. "Sakura…" Her name came out more unsure than he'd meant it to. As much as he'd love to give in, he couldn't ignore the mark that promised her to some other man.
At his voice, she pulled back slowly, just enough to look at him, but her hands remained where they'd fallen at his shoulders. He'd never been as hyperaware of a touch as he was now. He wanted nothing more than to let her keep caressing him. He wanted nothing more than for her mark to lead to him, but-
"Kakashi." Again, her familiar voice pulled him from his thoughts. "It's alright."
For a moment, his dark eyes searched her clear gaze. He scoured it for even the tiniest trace of hesitance. Even as she leaned closer, letting her lips hover just out of reach of his masked ones, he searched. He had to be absolutely sure. She had to be absolutely sure, and she was. There wasn't a single trace of doubt in her expressive eyes.
At that moment, he let himself fall.
It was a gentle, timid kiss, more on his side than hers. He was testing the waters, worried she might change her mind, but as she relaxed into him, he gained confidence. Slowly, he began to press back. Somewhere along the way, he slipped his mask down his face, and it was just the two of them, flesh on flesh, meeting her desire with his own.
And then he felt it.
The last string falling away.
A warm glow encircling his pinky finger.
At the same time, both pulled away and were left to stare in awe at the thin red string that led from Sakura's pinky and disappeared underneath Kakashi's glove. For a moment, all the pair could do was stare at it, and then, as though some spell were broken, both were scrambling to rid Kakashi of the offending glove that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After what seemed like too long for the both of them, his hand was bare except for the little intangible string that only they could see linking the two together. A wave of euphoria washed over the two. Gleeful laughter sprang from Sakura's lips as her head fell forward and leaned against Kakashi's. Meanwhile, he could do nothing but sit dumbstruck with a giddy smile that betrayed his every emotion without the mask in place.
"I wanted it to be you so badly," Sakura admitted quietly in a reverent whisper as though speaking too loudly might make the little string disappear into oblivion. Their connected hands laced, holding each other firmly, not wanting to let go.
Was this what it felt like? Was this how everyone else felt when they found their One? It wasn't at all like he'd expected. It wasn't the feeling of completion, of having a missing piece that has suddenly been found. It was better than that. It was having more. Having a piece that complemented rather than completed him. Finally, he understood.
"What's wrong?" Sakura frowned when she glanced back up at him only to find watery eyes.
"Nothing," Kakashi shook his head. A soft chuckle escaped his lips. "Nothing at all. I'm just happy."