A/N: This chapter is dedicated to LoveChibi and Square Mom Lover. Thank you so much for reviewing! You guys have no idea how much they encourage and inspire me! And thank you to all my new favorites/followers! I appreciate all of you!
Good lord, how did this chapter end up over 7,000 words? Well, I hope you all enjoy it, regardless of the bloated length, lol.
Kakashi crept a few more precarious inches along the rapidly-shrinking branch. Much further, and it wouldn't be able to hold his weight. But it didn't matter. His position was good enough for what he wanted to accomplish.
This particular branch extended over the wall to the woman's side of Konoha's hot springs. And below him, a single blonde head was tipped back to rest against the edge of the steaming pool, with the rest of her body submerged. Her golden-brown eyes were closed and pink lips raised in a blissful half-smile.
Kakashi's own smile tugged at his mouth under his mask. Ever since he'd learned of Tsunade's weekly visits to the hot springs, an idea had begun brewing. He'd observed her for a few days, until he was able to predict the day and time she would go to the springs. Today, he'd decided, was the perfect day to carry it out. Once Tsunade had entered the—fortunately—empty springs, he'd put up official-looking signs on each door that he'd made yesterday, claiming the springs were closed for maintenance.
Kakashi closed his eyes, briefly checking that his chakra was still tightly concealed. Yes. His meticulous planning was paying off, as usual. His fellow shinobi made fun of him for it, but there was a reason he was known for having a minuscule amount of errors on missions.
Kakashi refocused on his target and frowned. Though relaxed, the strain of her workload was still evident in her sagging head and limp hands hanging off the edge of the pool. Tsunade had been busier than ever the past week, and, unlike the first two weeks after he'd accepted Koharu's secret mission, they'd hardly seen each other. When she wasn't overrun with paperwork, she was working nonstop in her medical lab. Which meant that when she did have time to speak to him, she looked ready to drop from exhaustion.
Kakashi shook himself. He didn't need constant attention, but it did make this particular mission of even greater importance. After all, his month in Konoha would be over in a couple of days. A cold fist curled around his gut. Once he left, there was no going back. But that was the last thing he wanted to think—
Kakashi's gaze dropped to the slender branch he was crouched on—just in time to watch it break under him—and he plummeted like a rock.
Kakashi lost his tight hold on his chakra, and Tsunade's eyes flew open just as Kakashi hit the water with a resounding splash directly in front of her. Tsunade shrieked as she was doused with Kakashi's wave, and Kakashi floundered in the spring, gasping at the shock of hot water. This was not how he'd planned his entrance. Kakashi finally made it to the edge of the pool and pulled himself out, grumbling at the audacity of the branch.
"What—what...?" Tsunade sputtered, gaping at him through dripping blonde hair, and looking as if she was about to launch herself out of the spring after him. But then she glanced down at her barely-submerged body and seemed to think better of it. She flushed red and sank deeper into the cloudy water, her glare murderous. "Kakashi! What are you doing in the women's side of the springs?"
"I fell." Kakashi stood, inspecting his wet clothes. Fortunately, he hadn't worn his jōnin uniform. Just his dark blue pants and shirt. He smiled. Well. Perhaps this had worked out for the better. He grasped the hem of his shirt.
"Obviously. But why...?" Tsunade's gaze lifted to the broken branch above her and her golden-brown eyes widened incredulously. "Were you spying on—Wh-what are you doing?!"
Kakashi stripped off his soaked shirt. "Maa, I'm already wet. Might as well take a soak, don't you think?"
For once, Tsunade seemed to be speechless. He carelessly tossed his shirt to the side and stretched as the sun warmed his chilly skin. Ah, much better. But when his fingers found the button on his pants, Tsunade snapped out of her daze.
"You idiot!" she hissed, lurching closer to the edge of the pool. "Put your clothes back on! What—what if someone comes in and sees you?"
"They won't." To prove his point, Kakashi tugged off his mask and smiled pleasantly down at Tsunade. "As it happens, the springs are undergoing maintenance right now. We won't be disturbed."
Tsunade's jaw dropped for the second time. "Dis-disturbed?"
Kakashi grasped the waistline of his pants again and Tsunade's face flamed with another blush. His grin widened. No doubt about it, his hokage was very flustered. And she was so cute, he couldn't help but continue his teasing. "Because I want to respect your privacy, of course."
Tsunade's gaze darted anywhere but him as she stammered, "There's no need to—to—"
"What's the matter, Tsunade-sama?" Kakashi raised an eyebrow innocently. "I thought you'd seen countless naked men?" He paused, just for effect. "But if it bothers you that much, you can always look away."
If possible, Tsunade's face turned a deeper shade of crimson. "So indecent," she muttered. But she turned her back to him, loose blonde hair floating on the surface of the steaming pool. "Fine. Tell me when you're in the water."
Kakashi's grin only widened as he lowered himself into the steaming pool. He'd left his boxers on, of course, but she didn't have to know that. He sighed as the warmth soaked into his muscles, but his eyes were only for Tsunade. Her back was still to him, and he silently slid through water toward her. She hadn't specified how he was to let her know... but he also didn't want to be decapitated, so he set aside his more creative ideas. Instead, he leaned forward just enough to drop a kiss on her bare shoulder. Then ducked underwater to avoid her swinging fist.
With his eyes closed, of course. He wasn't Jiraiya, and he respected Tsunade too much to even think about stealing a look. Well, mostly.
Kakashi surfaced, and shook his wet hair like a dog, slinging droplets everywhere. Tsunade scowled at him, but amusement glinted in her gaze. "Honestly, you turn out more like your ninken every day."
Kakashi moved back to lean against the tiled wall of the spring and let his eyelids lower lazily. "I fail to see a downside to that."
"You wouldn't," Tsunade grumbled. She caught up her wet hair and twisted it into a knot on top of her head as she stared at him. "You still haven't told me what you're doing here."
The truth—that he was terrified she wouldn't want him after he returned to his past as a cold-blooded assassin and had needed to spend a moment with her, just the two of them—flickered through Kakashi's mind, but he couldn't say that. Besides, he'd come here to forget, not dwell on it again. "Maa, did you know that one of my favorite scenes in Icha Icha Paradise takes place in a hot spring?"
"Really," Tsunade deadpanned.
"Hai." Kakashi let the corner of his mouth lift, just enough to let Tsunade know he was teasing her. "You might say it was a bit... steamy."
Tsunade rolled her eyes. She drifted back to join him at the wall and folded her arms on the edge of the pool, then rested her cheek on her arms as she watched him. Kakashi tore his gaze from the curve of her neck and the bare, flawless skin of her shoulders glistening wet, and swallowed hard. Very hard.
Tsunade smirked at him. "Let's hear it then."
Kakashi desperately focused on her face, cheeks still slightly pink from the steam. Anything besides—besides— "Ah... what?"
"Your favorite scene in Icha Icha." Tsunade raised a blonde eyebrow innocently. "What happens?"
"Oh... uh... that." Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck and avoided Tsunade's gaze. Already, he could feel sweat beading on his forehead, and it wasn't from the hot spring. Though he hadn't read Icha Icha in a while, that didn't mean he had any desire to recount one of his favorite scenes to Tsunade. Even the thought of voicing a passage out loud made him want to melt into the pool in embarrassment.
"What's the matter?" Tsunade tilted her head mockingly, blonde bangs swaying. "Don't tell me the great copy-ninja is afraid."
"Well... uh... it's not that great of a scene, actually." Kakashi raised a fake smile. "I'm sure you would find it boring. You don't want to be bored, do—?"
"Kakashi." Tsunade pushed off of the wall and moved in front of him. Right in front of him. It took all of his willpower to keep his gaze fixed on her face. Especially when she reached up and wrapped her hands around his neck. "Sometimes," she murmured, as she pulled him down to her, "you are so dense."
Her lips were warm and soft, and tasted heavenly. Limbs entangled under the water, and she pressed against him, every curve of her wet body on his bare skin. Suspended in the warm water and clouds of steam surrounding them, it seemed as though they were floating. And he never wanted to leave.
Kissing in a hot spring, he decided, was underrated.
Kakashi pulled away enough to breathe, then remembered Tsunade's comment before he'd lost himself in her bliss. Dense? He wasn't—ah. All that talk about Icha Icha... so, when he hadn't taken her hints, she'd decided to show him. Not that he was complaining. But, well, now that he knew what she wanted... he'd take things into his own hands.
He kissed the base of her jaw below her ear, then trailed kisses down her smooth neck and the bare skin of her shoulder. Tsunade shivered against him and let out a little moan. "Kakashi..."
"Hmm?" Kakashi smiled at her flushed cheeks, far too dark to be an aftereffect of the steam. "I thought you wanted to know what happened in my favorite scene?" He reached up and freed her long blonde hair from the knot, and it cascaded down her back. His fingers tangled in the damp, silky strands as he tilted her face back up to his, losing himself in her honey-brown eyes. "Why don't I just show you?"
"Ka-Kakashi!" Tsunade shoved his bare chest, her glare hot and embarrassed. "I don't—not yet—"
"Maa, I know. Don't you trust me?" Kakashi smiled. His arm encircled her waist under the water, and she didn't resist as he pulled her closer. "It's called Make-Out Paradise, after all. And all they did... was this."
Kakashi brushed his lips against hers, a gentle kiss like a caress. She sighed against him and he deepened the kiss, tasting her sweat and sweetness. Still, he kept his movements soft and slow. He wanted to show her how much she meant to him, how his heart and soul swelled with love every time he thought of her, saw her, tasted her. She was his everything, and he wanted to show her that.
He wanted her to remember him like this.
When the kiss finally ended, neither could breathe for several seconds. Tsunade gazed up at him, cheeks flushed and eyes glistening. But it was glow of her face that revealed everything. "Kakashi..."
Apparently unable to find the words she wanted, Tsunade kissed him again, this time with a passion that set his veins on fire. Kakashi returned her kisses with his own, and for a long time, nothing existed except for the two of them, lost in each other.
The bang of a door startled Kakashi of his reverie.
"No, I didn't put those signs up!" a man shouted inside the bathhouse. "I swear, if it's those kids messing around again..."
Kakashi blocked out the annoying voices as he kissed Tsunade again. Her soft lips were his sake and he was drunk with her. He moaned as he inhaled the scent of her skin. He could never have enough of—
Tsunade pushed away, hard. "Baka!" she hissed, turned her head as he tried to lean in again. "We have to get out of here. They're coming!"
Kakashi blinked at the entrance to the bathhouse. Who was coming? Those voices... ah, it had to be the owner of the springs. Tsunade was right; they couldn't let him see them in here. But he couldn't help a smirk at the situation as he leaped out of the spring and yanked on his pants. With her clothes in the bathhouse, Tsunade only had one option, and she wasn't going to like it. He snagged his shirt and held out to Tsunade, who was still submerged in the hot spring. "For you. Unless you'd rather go naked."
Tsunade scowled, but she snatched the soggy shirt. "Fine. But turn around, brat. And hurry up!"
Kakashi obediently turned his back to her, suppressing a grin. Tsunade cursed behind him as she presumably struggled with the wet, clingy garment. "This is all your fault—" her voice grew muffled— "you know. I was enjoying a—"
"Men's side is empty!" another man called. "They must be in the women's!"
"I'm going, I'm going," the first man grumbled. The door creaked, and Kakashi knew they were out of time.
"Into the tree!" Tsunade whispered behind him.
Kakashi grabbed the branch that had fallen with him and shot up into the tree. He landed lightly on a larger limb, Tsunade next to him a moment later. Kakashi wrapped his arm around her waist, and pulled her back with him snugly against the trunk. They both held their breath, but Kakashi had to shove down a laugh bubbling up inside as they watched the owner of the hot springs look around the empty pool in confusion.
Tsunade seemed to sense the vibrations of his suppressed laughter, because she elbowed him in the side. But from his view of her profile, he caught the corner of her lips lifting. And now that he thought about it, the position they were currently in wasn't that much worse than before they'd been interrupted.
Her—or his—damp shirt was cold against his bare skin, but the heat of her body more than made up for it. He'd held her close to him, and she hadn't resisted. Instead, she seemed comfortable leaning back against him, and he savored the feel of her body curved into his. He grinned. He'd never thought the morning would end with Tsunade wearing his shirt. And only his shirt, at that.
Kakashi eased further back against the trunk and let his gaze linger on the woman he loved, his arm still firmly around her waist. Everything had happened so fast; he hadn't had a chance to admire her in his clothes yet. Or, lack of. The wet long-sleeved shirt hugged her curves, but was still baggy enough that it made his petite hokage look even smaller. The hem hung just long enough to cover a few inches of her thighs, but the rest of her smooth, muscular legs—down to her toes with red nails—were bare. He swallowed, pulse thudding. Maybe... maybe this hadn't been such a good idea.
"He's gone." Tsunade turned enough to look back at him, catching his stare. She cleared her throat. "What are you doing?"
Kakashi recovered enough to smile back lazily. "I was just thinking how adorable my hokage looks in my shirt."
"Oh?" Tsunade leaned back into him. Kakashi couldn't help a strangled moan as every curve of her body pressed into his, setting his senses on fire. But she pushed harder and harder, until he could hardly breathe. She tipped her face back to his with a smug smile. "I expect my clothes back by the end of the day."
"H-hai," Kakashi choked out, and she released him. He gasped for breath. "But—but they're in the women's dressing room... aren't they?"
Tsunade waved her hand dismissively. "You're an elite ninja. Figure it out."
Kakashi nodded, and struggled to hide his disappointment when Tsunade straightened, leaving behind an imprint of his shirt on his stomach. He pushed off the tree trunk. "Maa, you're leaving?"
Tsunade glanced back, amused. "I have a lot of work to do, Kakashi." But she held his gaze, and her expression shifted. She moved back to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, sending a tingle up his spine. She looked up at him, smile soft. "Thank you for coming to me."
"Maa, well, I missed you," Kakashi admitted. His gaze fixed on her lips, so close and so tempting. He leaned in, eyes closing—and abruptly stopped. He opened his eyes in confusion, taking in Tsunade's finger pressed to his mouth.
"Not yet." Tsunade's lips curved teasingly. "Come by the hospital later. I have something I want to show you." She didn't wait for his answer; instead leaping out of the tree and summoning a henge as she walked away.
Kakashi settled back against the tree and watched her until she disappeared, his own smile playing on his lips. They both knew he would do whatever she asked. Then he glanced at the women's bathhouse, already filling with females chattering gossip, and his smile faded.
Maybe he would summon Pakkun to fetch Tsunade's clothes.
"By all the shinobi gods, Naruto, if you don't sit still, so help me I will attach this arm on backwards!" Tsunade exploded. The thick walls of the hospital examination room shook from the force of her temper, but she was fairly certain they were insulated enough to keep her outburst from reaching the rest of the staff.
Not that she particularly cared if they did. By now, they probably expected it.
A shirtless Naruto shrank into his seat on the examination table, eyes wide as if he actually believed she might do it. "S-sorry, Tsunade-baachan. I'll be still, promise." Then he mumbled, "What happened to your good mood, anyway?"
"You did, gaki." Tsunade huffed. She'd arrived at the hospital feeling warm and happy after Kakashi's unexpected visit to the hot springs—honestly, she still couldn't believe he'd done such a thing—but then Naruto had showed up, rambunctious and full of questions as usual, effectively dousing her memories of that morning like a cold bucket of water in the face. She narrowed her gaze at him as she held the bandage-wrapped arm she'd created in the last month to his stump, using her healing jutsu to connect nerves and muscle, and most importantly, chakra pathways. It was a tedious process, not helped by Naruto's squirming. "What has you so fidgety? I know you always have an abundance of energy, but this seems excessive."
"Sorry." Naruto scratched the back of his head, apparently having forgotten his promise to hold still. His face scrunched. "I've just been... thinking."
"Always dangerous for you," Tsunade mused. Naruto scowled at her, but she merely raised her eyebrows in response. It was well-deserved, she thought, for having to put up with his behavior. But Naruto's problem was clearly bothering him, so she offered an encouraging smile. "About what?"
"Uh... well..." Naruto reddened and ducked his head. "WhatshouldIdoforHinata?"
Tsunade adjusted her glowing hand over the connecting appendages. "Naruto, I have no idea what you're mumbling. Man up and say it."
"I'm a man, believe it!" Naruto straightened so fast she nearly lost her grip on his new arm. His mouth set in determination. "It's Hinata-chan. I want to do something for her, to show her how I feel... but I don't know what to do."
"I see." Tsunade breathed a silent sigh of relief as she inspected the arm. Somehow, it had stayed in place. She glared at Naruto. "Talk about Hinata all you want, but stay still while you do!"
"I don't want to talk about her, I want your advice!" Naruto's large blue eyes begged her. "C'mon, Tsunade-baachan. What did Kakashi-sensei do to show you that he cared about you?"
Tsunade almost dropped the arm for the second time. "W-what?" Frantically, she refocused on his miraculously-still-attached arm. Why did Naruto have to bring up such things? "I don't, uh, remember."
Naruto just stared at her, as if he couldn't believe she would think he'd fall for that. "You remember."
Of course she remembered. She remembered all of it. The memory foremost in her mind was that morning in the hot springs. Tsunade's face grew warm. But that memory brought back another one from four years ago... when Kakashi had broken into a hot spring with her during their mission, all because he'd known she wanted it. Had he cared about her even then? Now, the answer seemed obvious. She cleared her throat. "Remember that mission we took to Yamagawa and stopped overnight in that small town? Kakashi noticed I didn't go to the hot springs like I had wanted, so he took me that night."
Naruto blinked. "You and Kakashi-sensei broke into the hot springs after I was asleep?"
"Not the point!" Tsunade would have smacked him upside the head if she hadn't been in the middle of fusing on his new arm. So, she settled for a withering glare. "What I'm saying is, Kakashi took the time to do something for me that he knew I would love. That he would do such a thing for me meant a lot, though I didn't realize how much until later." A lot later. But she wasn't going to mention that.
"Hai," Naruto agreed with a smirk. "You were pretty clueless there for a while, Tsunade-baachan."
Tsunade bit the inside of her cheek to keep from strangling him. She could swear Naruto was only becoming cheekier as he got older. "I thought you wanted my advice, gaki. Did you even hear anything I said?"
Naruto squinted thoughtfully. "Yeah, I heard you. So... I need to do something for Hinata that means a lot to her. Something that shows I was thinking about her. But what would be special for Hinata? I don't know her very well..."
Tsunade dropped her gaze back to his arm to hide her surprise. He had been listening. "Have you ever taken her to eat ramen?"
"No..." Naruto eyed her doubtfully. "But I do that with my friends. And I don't see her as just a friend."
Obviously. Tsunade removed her hand from his new arm. "If you take her to your favorite place, it will make her feel special. What better way to show her that you care about her? I think that's a good start." She offered a smirk of her own. "But if you don't think that's enough, you could always just kiss her."
Naruto turned a very unnatural—and satisfying—shade of red. "Huh?! I don't—I can't... but I've never done that before!"
"Does someone need a lesson in the art of making out?" Jiraiya walked into the examination room, grin nearly wider than his face. In the past month, he'd improved enough to walk without a cane, but he still had a pronounced limp.
"No!" Naruto shouted, at the same time Tsunade snapped, "Jiraiya! This is a hospital and these patient rooms are private. You can't come in whenever you want!"
Jiraiya ignored them both. "Since Tsunade had plenty of experience in this area, I assume Naruto is the one in need of my wisdom?"
Tsunade flushed furiously. "How on earth would you know that?!" Her jaw dropped. Why, that pervert... "Have—have you been spying on me?"
"Relax, Hime, I would never." Jiraiya's grin turned devious. "But it seems I was right." Tsunade sputtered, and he turned to Naruto. "It's quite simple, but there are a few tricks I'm willing to give you. For instance, once you stick your tongue—Agh!"
Tsunade removed her fist from Jiraiya's gut, and glowered down at his bushy white head as he doubled over, groaning. "I don't care if you're healing, I will rip out your tongue if you keep talking!"
Unfortunately, Naruto leaned forward, face alight with interest. "No, wait. I wanna hear what Pervy Sage has to—"
Tsunade spun on him, and Naruto froze. "No! That is the end of this discussion," she growled. Naruto paled to white and nodded rapidly. She relaxed, shifting back into medical-nin mode. "Now, try moving your arm and fingers."
Naruto focused on his new arm, as if just remembering it was there. He flexed and twisted his wrist, opening and closing his fingers. His bright grin lit up the room. "It works! Thanks, Baachan!"
Tsunade smiled fondly, relief lifting a burden from her shoulders. He didn't know the countless hours she'd put into creating a complete, functional limb with her grandfather's cells, but he didn't need to. His happiness was enough for her.
Jiraiya grunted, ruefully rubbing his stomach. "You did well, Tsunade."
"Hmm." Tsunade kept her gaze on Naruto as he practiced making seals with both hands. "Are you certain you don't want one?"
"Hai. Besides, ladies like battle scars." Jiraiya grinned, but his false cheer didn't fool her. She knew he felt that he didn't deserve a new arm. And maybe he didn't see the point, since he was unable to do jutsu. Jiraiya sent her a sideways glance, as if he sensed her thoughts. But he only said, "Ah, I forgot the reason I came in here. Shizune sent me to tell you that your next patient is here."
Kakashi. Unable to hold back the smile from her face, Tsunade spun to the door—ignoring Jiraiya's chuckle—and called over her shoulder, "Naruto, you are free to go."
"And put your shirt back on!"
"Hai, hai, I know!"
Naruto's and Jiraiya's footsteps followed Tsunade as she headed down the hall to the front desk, her heels clicking on the floor. Kakashi hadn't known that her long hours at the hospital had been spent trying to create him a new arm before he left with Sasuke. Thanks to her many sleepless nights, she had succeeded. She turned the corner, and sure enough, Kakashi stood with Shizune in front of the desk, a bundle in his arm. Their conversation ended as she approached, and both faced her.
Kakashi's eye curved with a smile and he lifted the bundle. "Maa, I brought the clothes you left behind."
Any thoughts of the surprise awaiting him promptly dissolved. Tsunade halted, horrified, and heat flooded her cheeks. Shizune looked similarly mortified; her gaze darting anywhere but Tsunade and Kakashi. Oh, gods. "It's not—"
Jiraiya's belly laugh rang out behind her. "I say, it's about time, Tsunade! Better late than never, am I right, Naruto?"
Rage swiftly overtook her shock, and Tsunade wheeled to face them. Both Jiraiya and Naruto were snickering, but at the sight of her murderous expression, they froze, eyes widening in fear as she hissed, "It's not like that! He was just... I just..." And in that moment, she realized she couldn't very well tell them the truth either. Their smirks were resurfacing, so she desperately grasped the last bit of control she had. "Shut up and get out of here before I give you a reason to stay in one of these rooms!"
Jiraiya and Naruto didn't need another reason to make a beeline for the door. But as soon as they reached the safety of the opening door, they burst into cackles as they rushed away.
Tsunade groaned as she facepalmed. "I swear, those two..." Except Shizune was still here. She hastily lifted her head. "That—that was all a misunderstanding. It's not what it looks like. We were just..." Again, her voice failed her. Why, why?
"It's all right, Tsunade-sama." Shizune fiddled with a stack of papers behind the desk, still avoiding Tsunade's gaze. "I understand."
Thank the shinobi gods. Tsunade relaxed and sent a sharp glance at Kakashi, who was still standing quietly, amusement crinkling his eyes. "Leave the clothes with Shizune and come with me. I have something to show you."
Shizune coughed and focused even more intently on the papers in front of her, a strange smile curving her lips.
Tsunade narrowed her eyes at her assistant. Wait. Shizune understood... what, exactly? She opened her mouth to demand an explanation, but Kakashi grasped her arm gently. "Come, Tsunade-sama. You had something to show me?"
Tsunade huffed, but allowed Kakashi to lead her away. "I hope Shizune knows that you just saved her." She scowled. "What possessed you to say such a thing? Didn't you realize what it sounded like?"
"Mmm, I guess I wasn't thinking." Kakashi tilted his head, silver flopping over his forehead protector. "Or maybe I just wanted to see you flustered again."
Tsunade sighed in exasperation as she held open the door to the patient room for Kakashi to enter. But she couldn't stay irritated at him. "May I remind you that you are leaving with Sasuke tomorrow? I'm the one who has to stay in the village and live with the consequences of... that."
Kakashi stopped so abruptly Tsunade nearly rammed into him as she followed him into the room. Instead, she side-stepped him and frowned up at—a deep and pain-filled turmoil roiled through his dark eyes, but then he blinked and it was gone. "Ah, I don't want to think about leaving yet." He rubbed the back of his neck and eye-smiled. "Didn't you have something you wanted to show me?"
Tsunade bit her lip. Something was clearly bothering him, but he was just as clearly trying to hide it from her. If he wasn't ready to tell her, what could she do but honor his wishes? "H-hai." She turned away, but the anticipation of surprising him with a new arm had all but deserted her. "I know I've spending a lot of time in my lab lately, but that's because I wanted to finish this before you, uh, left." She faced him, carefully cradling the new, bandage wrapped arm specifically made for Kakashi's measurements, weight, and muscle mass. "I created a new arm for you. It is fully functional, even with chakra pathways. You will be able to perform two-handed jutsu and seals again."
"Tsuna..." Kakashi's gaze was glued on the arm in her hands. He swallowed. "You—you created this arm for me? How?"
Tsunade offered a tremulous smile. "I'm the greatest medical-nin in the world for a reason, aren't I?" And here she was, making it sound easy. She managed a laugh. "But it took a lot of sleepless nights."
Kakashi shook his head and ran a hand down his face, muffling a muttered, "Gods, I don't deserve you."
Tsunade frowned at his agonized tone. But she was fairly certain he hadn't meant for her to hear, so she walked to him and casually mentioned, "I made one for Naruto too. Jiraiya and Sasuke chose not to have one." Kakashi lifted his gaze to hers, and she pointed to the examination table. "Sit."
Kakashi sat and removed his flak vest and shirt without being told. He'd worn his body-fitting sleeveless undershirt underneath, and Tsunade couldn't deny she was a little disappointed. But perhaps it was for the best. She needed to concentrate, after all. She positioned the new arm to Kakashi's left stump and held it in place with one hand as she began the careful merging of bone, nerves, and muscles with her other chakra-glowing hand.
Scars twisted and marred his pale skin where his fight with Danzō had blown the rest of his arm off. But that wasn't what was on her mind as her hand hovered over the old wounds. Instead, she remembered standing in much the same position, healing the gash on his arm in a dark forest, his intense gaze making her stomach knot confusingly. She sighed as a wave of nostalgia tugged at her. It seemed today was to be a day of memories. "You know... this reminds me of that mission."
Kakashi lifted his gaze from his new arm as if surprised. They hadn't spoken about that mission in years, but she knew he remembered it as well as she did. He tilted his head. "Maa, I was a mess that day. I couldn't figure out why I couldn't think when you were close; why I was so distracted. I wanted to impress you with my skills, though I told myself it was just because you were my hokage." He gave an embarrassed chuckle. "Yet I made more mistakes on that mission than the rest of my missions combined."
Tsunade couldn't help a laugh. "And here I thought you were just being a pain because you could."
"Hardly. You were the one puzzle I couldn't figure out." Kakashi's mask shifted with what she was sure was an arrogant grin. "A lot has changed since then."
"Oh?" Tsunade smirked. "You think you have me all figured out, is that it?"
Kakashi's eyes widened. "Ah, no, no." He held up his hand in a placating gesture. "I only meant I have figured out my feelings for you."
Tsunade rolled her eyes. Smooth. "Right. Nice save."
"Maa, I've had lots of practice." Kakashi's gray eyes softened. "You know... many things would be different if we'd never gone on that mission to Yamagawa."
Too many things. Kakashi would be no more to her than one of her valued jōnin, and she would still be fighting the emptiness inside with shots of sake. Tsunade managed a slight smile in response, but couldn't keep bitterness from her voice. "No matter how different things are, we still don't have what we want. Sometimes... I wonder if we'll ever be able to keep our promise."
She half-expected him to reassure her as he always did, but Kakashi was silent for a long moment. Only then did she notice his hand was clenched in a white-knuckled fist.
"We are shinobi. No matter what we do or promise, life is uncertain." Kakashi's voice was so low, she almost missed his murmur. He looked at her and a quiver ran through her stomach at his intensity. "But I don't regret anything. Everything I do is for you. And no matter what happens, you have my heart."
Tsunade no longer had any doubt that something was wrong. But she couldn't make herself ask him; right now, he needed reassurance from her. Instead, she moved forward and rested her forehead against his. Her whisper was only for him. "I know. And you have mine."
Kakashi shifted off the table and wrapped his arms around her. Tsunade needed no other urging to lean into him and returned his embrace. She breathed in his scent, savoring the warm pressure of his arms holding her close... she blinked. Arms? But she didn't remember finishing—she attempted to turn, but Kakashi's chuckle rumbled against her, stopping her. "It's all right, Tsuna. My arm is fully functional."
Tsunade hesitated, but she supposed he would know. It was his arm, after all. Without further resistance, she succumbed to his embrace and rested her cheek against his solid, muscular chest, his steady pulse soothing.
Kakashi's arms tightened and something brushed the top of her head. "Thank you."
Somehow, she knew he was talking about more than just his arm. She shifted, but he held her so close, she couldn't look up at him. Maybe he didn't want her to. So, she snuggled closer. If he just wanted to hold her, she was fine with that. She closed her eyes and listened to his heartbeat and the slow rise and fall of his chest. Sometimes, words didn't need to be spoken.
Kakashi's sigh shuddered against her. "Sasuke and I are leaving early in the morning."
Tsunade wished she could close her eyes tighter and pretend she didn't have to walk out of this room and resume her duties as hokage. But reality always came, whether wanted or not. "So... this is goodbye?"
Kakashi's arms briefly compressed around her before he pulled away. "I'd better go."
Tsunade's throat constricted painfully, but she shoved her emotions down. There was nothing she could do about it. "I'll walk you out."
Kakashi's warm hand caught her cheek, stopping her in place. "Wait. Aren't you forgetting something?"
Yes. She had forgotten to keep her heart in check, where it belonged. How long till she could be free? Tsunade blinked hard, though the sting didn't lessen, and forced herself to meet Kakashi's gaze. "Forgetting what?"
Her pain reflected in the depths of Kakashi's charcoal irises, but his answer was light and playful, no doubt for her sake. "You promised me a kiss."
In spite of herself, Tsunade felt the corner of her lips lifting. "I suppose I did."
Kakashi didn't take his eyes from hers as she pulled his mask down gently, exposing his pale skin, the slope of his cheekbones and slight curve of his mouth. She inhaled sharply. The sudden contrast with the paleness of his face revealed the heavy dark shadows under his eyes. Whatever was bothering him had taken a greater toll that she had thought. Had he even slept the past week?
As if sensing her realization, Kakashi grimaced and closed his eyes, but not before she glimpsed the glitter of unshed tears.
Tsunade's chest ached. Enough was enough. She couldn't hide her concern any longer, nor did she want to. She framed his face with both hands, his skin cool under her fingertips. "Kakashi, what's wrong? Tell me."
Kakashi shook his head and exhaled slowly. "I—I can't..." Still, he wouldn't look at her. "I don't want to leave." His voice shook. "I don't want to do this."
"Do what?" Tsunade searched his face frantically. What was he talking about? Why was he acting this way? She had never scared easily, but Kakashi's behavior sent cold fear crawling down her spine.
At last, Kakashi opened his gray eyes to hers. A sigh shuddered through his body and he placed both of his hands over hers; one warm, calloused skin, the other rough from linen bandages. He lowered their joined hands, but didn't let go. "Tsuna," he rasped, "can you do one thing for me?"
"Anything." Instinctively, Tsunade tightened her grip on his.
Kakashi pressed both of her hands to his chest, his heart thudding against her palms. "The kiss you promised me."
Tsunade hadn't realized she was crying until Kakashi's lips touched hers, wet with his own tears. Her hands were still captured against his chest, so she lifted up onto her toes to close the distance between them. All she could taste was the salt of their mingling tears until finally, Kakashi pulled away. He squeezed her hands gently and released her to reach around and grab his shirt and flak vest. Then, he turned and walked out of the room.
Tsunade stood, blinking, as she tried to process what had just happened. The door closed behind him, jolting her brain back to reality. Fear tore through her, and she rushed after him. "Kakashi!"
But when she shoved through the door, the hallway was empty. Ignoring what she already knew—that he was gone—Tsunade hurried down the hall past a startled Shizune at the desk and through the front door. She stopped at the street and scanned the villagers still milling among the shops as the sun set. Nothing.
Tsunade sighed, and closed her eyes, letting the breeze caress her face. Her bangs swayed, tickling her cheeks and jaw. The image of Kakashi's agonized face squeezed her heart painfully, but he'd chosen to hide the reason from her. No doubt, he thought he was protecting her. She sighed. But what had she expected? Kakashi had lived most of his life in secrecy, bearing burdens alone, thinking he was protecting others from himself. Of course he would fall back into old habits if he was afraid for her.
Tsunade curled her fingers into a fist. But did he think he was protecting her from something else... or himself?
Tsunade opened her eyes and let another sigh release the pressure in her chest. She couldn't do anything about it right now. She had to let it go, until Kakashi was ready to trust her with his fears. Trust went both ways, after all.
A flash of orange across the street caught her eye. Naruto was walking with Hinata in the direction of Ichiraku's, and as she watched, Naruto reached out and clasped the Hyūga girl's hand. Both turned red, but Naruto was grinning.
Tsunade smiled as they vanished around the corner, warmth replacing the heaviness in her chest. Her Naruto was growing up. She turned and walked back to the hospital. At least she'd done something right today.
LoveChibi: Aww, thank you! Your review made me so happy. :) That chapter was an unplanned child, but as I ended up writing almost all of it in one sitting, I'm pretty pleased with it. And it totally brought me the feels as I was writing it, so you're not alone, lol.
Square Mom Lover: Ahhh, thank you so much, my faithful reviewer! :D Honestly, I was having doubts as far as readers liking that chapter, so needless to say, your review made my week! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I agree, Kakashi and Tsunade are long overdue for some happiness. Hopefully at least part of this chapter made up for some of that. XD It did seem a little far-fetched to me that Danzō did everything he did without at least some of the other higher-ups finding out/working with him. So, I took that and ran with it, lol. Thanks for sticking with me this far! I truly appreciate it! :)