DISCLAIMER: I don't own much these days….much less Naruto.

Author's Note: I'M NOT DEAD. hides


"SENSEI!" The only thing faster than the anbu teams was Sakura's scream as Kakashi's body was pulled up forcefully from the waters, dragged onto the dirt and dead grass littered banks. An Anbu with a frightening amount of scars covering the skin above his arm guards felt for Kakashi's pulse at the neck. His head turned towards the waiting medical teams, who stood waiting for the signal it was safe to proceed.

"He's still alive!"

Sakura sobbed, tears trickling down her face openly. At that moment she didn't care if Ino or anyone else would call her a cry-baby. All she knew was that the worst was over. Kakashi-sensei was alive. Everything would be alright, everything would be okay. She wiped her face with the back of one hand, half-hiccupping from crying, and felt a soft pat on her back. An awkward looking Naruto was patting her, lightly and in a way that really didn't help at all. But Sakura didn't care. She looked at Naruto's face covered in dirt smudges and faint streaks of dried blood and threw herself at him, hugging him tightly for a brief moment.

"He-..you-!" She babbled into his orange vest. He patted her back, embarrassed at her openness but touched deep inside. No one had ever hugged him like this before. In fact, no one had ever cared for him before he'd joined Team Seven. His eyes stung and he quickly rubbed at them with his hand.

"There's something…in my eyes." He mumbled as Sakura pulled away, pulling her clothes in place neatly. She smiled at him, eyes shining in her happiness. Looking at her, Naruto could only smile back.

The medical squad brought with the Sandaime consisted of four squad members. The tallest, a pale faced man with long brown hair tied high, was setting up healing scrolls, the complex formulas traced with chakra by medical ninjas back at Konoha. Another was busy cleaning the obvious flesh wounds that marked the silver-haired Jounin, gently rinsing out the dirt and crusted blood in his arm and neck wounds. Stopping at what looked like a bite-wound from a violent animal, she glanced at the two students standing to the side of the lake. What had happened here, before they'd arrived?

Masa, the youngest and newest member of the four-man team held out bandages for her as she wrapped the washed wounds in ointment smeared bandages, a special mixture created by a Konoha medical specialist years ago that sped up healing times by days. As he handed over the last bandage wrap for Kakashi's arm, he realized that the ninja was stirring.

Kakashi's eyes remained closed as before, but his left arm was shifting, almost trembling. It stopped, as if he was collecting his strength, and then his arm raised up, moving hesitantly towards his face.

"You shouldn't move, you've been very badly injured, Kakashi-" Masa protested, reaching out to stop the shinobi from further aggravating his internal injuries. A smaller hand came out of nowhere and slapped his aside. Masa jerked back in shock.

Sasuke's face, a bandage covering a light scratch to his cheek, was grim as he starred back at the medical ninja. Masa's partner pulled at his sleeve and motioned for him to give the young Shinobi some room. Quickly, he moved aside to let Sasuke in, peeking at him out of the corner of his eye as he continued with the administrations.

Kakashi's hand was still reaching up. It finally reached his face after what seemed like an eternity and then tried, slowly pulling at the torn shreds of his face mask, his pale bloodless skin peeking through from the black fabric. Sasuke wanted to laugh. Even now, having escaped death by mere moments, the older man was only worried about keeping his face covered. What was wrong with him?

He knelt though, and pulling his shirt out, began to rip off a thick strip from the bottom of it. The sound of the fabric tearing was loud in the cold morning air, despite the murmurs of conversation drifting over from the Anbu leaders and the Hokage's discussions. Naruto had walked over as well, tailed closely by Sakura. They watched as Sasuke ever so gently wrapped the dark blue strip of cloth around their teacher's face, creating a make-shift facemask. Kakashi's hand stopped it's searching and fell back down, resting on his own shoulder. His normal eye opened slightly and peeking out from under tired lids, his dark gaze caught Sasuke's. His mouth moved a little under his mask and Sasuke leaned forward to catch the words.

Are you all okay?.

Sasuke smiled, bitter in realization of what his teacher was trying to say. You're an idiot, sensei. No one is worth dying for.

"Yes, we're all fine. Sakura has returned with the Hokage as well." He said, aloof in his reassurement. Naruto grinned.

"Yup! We're all good, Kakashi-sensei! Looks like you're gonna be the one needing extra training!" He kidded the prone teacher. Sakura punched him in the side hard.

"Ow! Sakura!"

Her eyebrow twitched as she glared at him.

"You don't say stuff like that to someone who's hurt! Especially if he did it saving you, doofus!" Looking over at a pensive Sasuke, she blushed.

"Right, Sasuke?"

But Sasuke wasn't paying any attention to her or Naruto. He was starring at the dark blue mask Kakashi now wore and his closed eyes, the old ridges of his scar an ugly brown-red against the soft ivory of his skin.

Copy-ninja Kakashi. Kakashi of the ShariganThe man who wore a mask, hiding his emotions, his thoughts and his life.

You're too old now, aren't you, Kakashi. Too old to change, too old to stop hiding yourself, to stop living for the day you'll die protecting others. That's what you were trying to tell me, wasn't it? To stop living for revenge, stop living to die.

"The Konoha spirit is one of protection, sacrifice and most importantly, love," Kakashi had said, not looking at Sasuke, but smiling into the dark hours of night. The sadness had been genuine, the smile had not.

Sasuke stayed there, even as Masa and the other members of the medical team lifted Kakashi onto a stretcher, moving the ninja to prepare him for return back to the hospital facilities of Konoha. The threat had been neutralized, the Black Mark to be released in quiet ceremony back at the village. Even now, two of the three Anbu teams were departing, silently melting away into the woods, off on missions of retrieval, intelligence or murder, missions only they could carry out.

I'll try. I…can only promise that, sensei. Itachi's eyes haunted the dark of his mind even now as he closed his eyes. The hate still burned in his chest, the taint of that same blood, the perfect brother, the perfect murderer mocking him. Killing his beloved brother, killing his hated brother, was the only thing he'd had driving him forward, the only thing he'd had to live for. How…do I live for myself, sensei? How do I live if I don't have revenge?

"Yo." Naruto's voice came from in front of him. He slowly raised his head and starred at the face of the blond haired bow. Bright eyes starred right back into his, eyes in a body that he'd shared only a little while ago.

Demon child! Get away from us!

"Sakura-chan's following the medical teams."

Carrier of the fox! Why does the Hokage keep him with the rest of our children?

"She was worried you'd want some time alone." Naruto grinned at him, his smile quirky but as trademark as the first time they'd stood together in front of Kakashi, the boy announcing to their teacher his goal in life.

"I'm gonna be the Hokage!"

Sasuke grinned back and got up off the ground, patting off his pants.

"Ready then, slowpoke?" He quipped, purposefully. Naruto scowled.

"Slowpoke?! You're the slow one! Man, why'd I come get you anyway-" He complained loudly as the two of them headed to join the tail of the Konoha party heading back to the village.

Living for yourself is hard. But I can always live to protect others, I guess.

Is that the stupid kind of thing you'd say, Kakashi-sensei?


::bows in embarrassment and misery::

Life….sucks. But here is the much belated next chapter. I think there is only one more to go, so please keep supporting me:D