Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, never have, and never will. And if I did, I wouldn't be so broke! I don't own anything except for a few original characters, the clothes on my back and a few pennies, so there's no point in suing me.
Author's Note: This story loosely follows the actual storyline, but if truth be told...certain things have been drastically changed. In this story, Sasuke has already killed Itachi, and it's about 12 years into the future, which would make the members of Team 7 about 24 years old?
As of Aug. 25, 2005: I'm still currently editing this story.
Chapter One: Memories
It had been years since he last saw her.
Her image was forever imprinted in his mind as he idly thought of her, of the way she waved good-bye in her cheerful manner as she set off on a simple mission to escort a client back to the Country of the Wave. Kakashi hadn't worried so much about her safety back then; she had trained harder than he thought possible, and she had reached her goal as a Jounin as well as a teacher to a young group of ninjas who had recently graduated from the academy. Haruno Sakura exceeded all expectations, and then some, and he knew that it was one of the many things that had attracted him to her.
Hatake Kakashi sighed softly, letting the memories wash over him in a perpetual stream. He had doubted that she would be strong enough, persistent enough to reach the rank of Jounin. She proved him wrong, surprising him with a determination he had only seen in her other two teammates, and although she had been the last of the group, she was eventually promoted to the Jounin rank and had become a powerful Kunoichi for Konoha.
He had been one of the first to hear the good news…
"Kakashi-sensei!" she screeched in an abnormally high-pitched squeal, making his ears ring. She caught him off-guard, and he leapt up from his spot under a tree, quickly shoving 'Icha Icha Paradise' into his pocket. "I've done it! I've become a Jounin!" She jumped into his arms in excitement and he enveloped her in a tight embrace as he swung her around, both futilely trying to ignore the immediate reaction of the chemistry between them. Although unspoken of, the attraction had been there for a while, at least on Kakashi's part. He set her gently to her feet again, holding on slightly longer than he needed. A blush covered her soft features, and he passed it off as excitement for her promotion, not willing to believe that maybe, just maybe, she had feelings for him.
"I'm proud of you," he said simply, grinning beneath the mask that covered most of his face. Her eyes shone with emotion as she looked up at him, her fingers slightly caressing his covered cheek.
"I couldn't have done it without your help and all the training that you've put us through-"
"It was your own determination that got you through," he interrupted, somehow finding it hard to tear his uncovered eye away from her emerald gaze. Why was he finding it difficult to breathe all of a sudden? They stared at each other a while longer before Sakura let out a nervous giggle, running her hand nervously through her pink tresses.
"I have something to tell you, sensei." She pulled away, her cheeks aflame, and she turned around so that she wouldn't have to face him as she spoke. Her enthusiasm quickly turned to that of shyness, and Kakashi felt himself grow tense at the alteration in her demeanor.
"What is it?" He was secretly startled at the immediate change in the tone of his voice. Somehow, it had become softer, gentler when he spoke to her, and although he knew why, he wasn't so sure if he was ready to exactly accept what he was feeling…
"I think…I-I think…" She paused slightly, as if unsure whether to go on.
"Hm?" She turned abruptly to look toward her confused sensei, and although her face was completely red, a resolute expression covered her face.
"There's something that I'd been hiding from you for a while," she began, "and I figured that I might as well say it now before I start my missions as a Jounin. I don't want to live with the regret of not being able to tell you when I had the chance."
"Sakura, you're speaking in cryptic riddles," he replied, chuckling uncertainly, unable to stop the fluttering feeling building in his chest. What was she doing to him?
"I-I love you." Of everything he had been expecting, it definitely wasn't that, and he was frozen in his spot, unable to move, not knowing how exactly he should reply. 'She loves me?' The phrase repeated over and over in his head, as he stared at her beautiful face, trying to comprehend what exactly had just happened. The mask covering his face felt even more like a protective cover when he felt his cheeks flush at her confession, but he wanted to strip it away, to face her with the same type of vulnerability that she was probably feeling at that moment. But her words rendered him speechless, and he had no idea what to do.
She took his stunned silence and lack of movement for rejection, and she quickly turned around. "I know it's foolish of me," she began to babble, "but after all these years together, I couldn't help but admire you. It hasn't been until recently that I'd realized that my admiration had grown into something more, but I was too blinded with my attraction to Sasuke to fully understand what had happened. I'd fallen in love with you without recognizing what I was feeling, and I just passed it off as an upset stomach, because every time I was near you, my stomach would react, making me feel all funny. Haha, isn't that amusing? You give me stomachaches! Haha, and I haven't even seen what you really look like yet, oh, not t-that that matters really. It doesn't really change how I feel." He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't actually seen her face turn even more red than it was. She was stammering at an uncontrollable rate, but he didn't know exactly how to stop her. "Uhm…I don't know why I'm saying all this. Haha! I guess I just expected much more after disclosing my feelings, but obviously you don't feel the same way, so I should go now and stop embarrassing myself any further-"
He gulped, his throat dry. Not wanting to mess up the opportunity that had presented itself before him, he thought carefully before he replied.
"Sakura." She paused as he finally spoke, but she looked away, unable to meet his gaze, knowing that he would see the glassiness of her eyes as she tried to conceal her tears.
"You don't have to make me feel better, sensei," she continued in an uneven tone, desperately trying to control her pain. "I'm perfectly fine, don't worry about me-"
"Sakura," he repeated, this time moving closer to her, and with one arm extended, he took her hand in his. She started at the contact, snapping her head too look at him, and their eyes locked. "I don't know exactly what I'm feeling, but we could give this a try."
"Really, sensei…?" she whispered in disbelief, and he chuckled again, shaking his head at her befuddled expression.
"You can start by calling me Kakashi," he said with a grin. "You're no longer my subordinate…You haven't been for a while."
"Kakashi," she muttered, wiping her tears away with the back of her free hand. "I-I don't know what to say-." At that moment, Kakashi gave in and wrapped his arms around her once more, relishing in the perfection he felt with her there.
"There's no need to say anything," he replied simply, lightly nudging her nose with his covered one. "Sometimes words are inadequate at times like these." With a nod of agreement, she smiled, and he lowered himself back onto the grass, pulling her along with him, and she settled against him in a comfortable position, as if she had always known all along how to do so. They sat together in blissful silence and watched the sky change from a warm orange to a gentle lavender as the sun began to dip below the horizon.
"How do you think the boys will react to this?" she inquired, and Kakashi shrugged, concentrating on their entwined fingers.
"They'll accept it," he said. "Not quietly, but they'll accept it."
He gazed upon her name on the memorial, and with steady fingers, he lightly traced over it.
"I miss you," he whispered before he straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat. "It's been a while, hasn't it, Sasuke-kun?" He turned and faced the surprised Uchiha survivor.
"You knew I was here?" Sasuke reached over and placed a pile of cherry blossoms on the memorial, his fingers following Kakashi's previous path and tracing over her name.
"It's been exactly five years today," Sasuke said quietly. "These were in bloom, and I thought that she might've liked them."
"She would have," Kakashi answered casually, looking over the bouquet that rested on top of the memorial. The tension between the two men grew as an uncomfortable silence loomed over them.
"Listen, sensei," Sasuke began slowly, as if unsure of his words.
"If you're going to talk about when…when I found you and S-Sakura, I don't want to hear it," Kakashi shot out, losing his usually cool demeanor.
"I wanted to explain-"
"I don't want to talk about it," Kakashi snapped, breathing steadily to control his temper.
"You've avoided talking about it since it happened, and you're still angry with me," Sasuke growled back. "I want to clear things-"
"Not today," Kakashi replied in an even tone. "I just want to remember her. I don't want to think about it, not like this." He sighed, tracing his trembling fingers once more over her name. "Why is my forgiveness so important to you now?"
"My wedding to Naoko is in a few months," Sasuke answered softly. "I invited you to the wedding, but you've never answered, and…I wanted the remaining members of Team 7 to be there. As two of my Best Men." He paused, waiting for Kakashi's answer, but the older Jounin did nothing but stare at Sakura's name. Sasuke sighed, thinking that he wasn't going to get an answer, and just as he turned to leave, Kakashi looked at him.
"I'll think about it." Without another word, Kakashi turned his gaze back to Sakura's name, every detail of the carved characters emblazoned into his memory. Sasuke felt his lips turn up into a tiny smile, and he continued on his way back to the town.
The temporary peace that had just settled between the two was suddenly interrupted as the town's loudest, show-offy ninja came crashing into the grassy clearing, calling out to the both of them.
"HEY!" he screamed insanely, his face red with excitement. "KAKASHI-SENSEI! SASUKE!"
"What's with you, idiot!" Sasuke scowled in irritation.
"She's back, she's back, she's back!" Naruto sang, dancing around with his arms flailing above his head. Kakashi's heart dropped, and he snapped his head to stare intensely at Naruto, but he dared not give into the hope that Naruto's words brought him.
"What do you mean!" Kakashi demanded urgently. "Who's back?"
"Sakura-chan!" Naruto cried out in jubilation. "Sakura-chan's back!"
"Impossible!" Kakashi exclaimed, feeling as if his senses had decided flee from him at that precise moment. His breathing had suddenly became quite laborious. "She's…gone. Her name's on the memorial-"
"They never found her body, right?" Naruto countered. "They never found her body when everyone looked for her! But she's back, she's back, she's back! I saw her with my own eyes!"
"You shouldn't worry so much about that part, sensei!" Naruto laughed joyfully, grabbing an arm from each of the two men standing in front of him as he dragged them into the direction of the town. "She's back, and Tsunade-sama is talking to her right now to find out what happened! That's all that matters-" He turned to smile goofily at his former sensei, but in a puff of white smoke, Kakashi was gone, already ahead of the two.
"I hate when he does that," Naruto said with no conviction as he danced his way back to the town with Sasuke trailing after him.
Kakashi fled as fast as his legs could carry him, his heart hammering within his chest, forcing him to go faster than he thought possible, and he reached Hokage-sama's office in a matter of minutes. But, as he found himself just outside of the doors that blocked his way, he paused, his logical mind trying to make sense of it all. However, he found that he couldn't possibly think his way to a reasonable answer as to what could have happened to have severed Sakura out of his life for five years. He knew that the only solution was to walk through the door and find out the truth. Without another hesitation, he pushed the door out of his way and burst through, his eye first landing on a mildly surprised Tsunade-sama, then on a woman sitting in a chair in front of the 5th Hokage, her back to Kakashi.
He inhaled sharply as his mind slowly registered the long, lustrous pink hair of the woman sitting a mere twenty feet away from him, but before he could say another word, Naruto and Sasuke crashed noisily into the room behind him, insults flying between the two of them, but they stopped immediately when the mysterious woman turned in her chair to stare at them with her large green eyes, and she swept pink tresses away from her telltale wide forehead to take a better look at the three who had interrupted her quiet meeting with Tsunade-sama.
Kakashi didn't know how it was possible for her to grow even more lovely than he remembered, but in the time that they had been separated, she had blossomed into a magnificent beauty, the curves of her face chiseled to perfection with grace and age. His chest tightened sharply as his heart jumped erratically with indescribable joy at the sight of her. He felt tears prickle his eyelashes, and he tried desperately to control his emotions before he did anything foolish, but he wanted nothing more than to rush to her and take her in his arms, just to hold her once again.
"SAKURA-CHAN!" Naruto greeted, before Sasuke knocked him on the side of his head, muttering, "Shut up, idiot!" beneath his breath, but both froze as they watched Kakashi move toward her, his hand reaching out to her as if she were a misty vision about to disappear at any given moment.
"Sakura?" Kakashi's voice cracked as he spoke her name, and he stepped forward to her, his excitement clearly building. Her brow wrinkled in confusion as she gave him a weak smile. Her eyes were wide with childlike innocence, and when she spoke, Kakashi stopped, his back gone rigid, feeling as if he had suddenly been dropped into a pool of freezing water.
"Who are you all?"