Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto or any of the characters.

This is for Jewel Song, as requested, a KakaSaku.

Cold

He was not used to this.

Not used to this sitting, this waiting, this unshakable anxiety that was creeping up on him and coating him like a second skin.

His apartment never felt as empty and cold as it did now, though he had lived alone for years. He sat on the bed, trying to let the silence fill his mind the way it did his home.

The crutch that had haunted him for the past two weeks was close by. Its wooden shape tempted his glare, but he refused to look at it. That damn thing was the object of his hatred at this moment, though he usually did not feel enough to hate. He turned his back on it, shifting uncomfortably and careful not to move his broken leg too much.

There was a taste of fear in his mouth and it was bitter for he had not sampled it in years—the thought that she might be hurt—and Naruto, too—the both of them defenseless or caught offguard by the foe awaiting them—

He sighed.

He really was not used to this. Maybe, somewhere underneath all the false calmness, the part of him that was fighting all those horrible thoughts could say that he hated being left behind.

She would hate it, he thought suddenly, This pretending... She had pretended so long to be someone else that anything less than admitting her true feelings was intolerable now. She had become a little bit like Naruto with that kind of thinking, who still told of his dream to be Hokage to anyone that would listen.

Speaking of which, his last meeting with his ex-student was still fresh in his mind. It had been a few days before they left. He had actually treated the yellow-haired loudmouth to ramen.

Neh, Naruto...

Sensei?

The response had been given with a mouth full of noodles. The blue eyes had looked so amused, as if he had expected what was next. It had made him feel so embarrassed, much more than the time when she had caught him with Icha Icha Paradise and had screamed at him for being a pervert. He had been used to that; he was not used to Naruto acting like the older one.

Bring her back safely.

A swallow, a smile, and then,

Ah, sensei, do you even have to ask?

And this beautiful promise had left him speechless, had touched him more than he had ever thought it could. Especially when he knew that he had not been the best teacher. Especially when he had seen that Naruto still loved her. The boy had moved on, perhaps, because time did that to everyone. But the old longing had been unblemished in those bright, blue eyes – that sweet desire to protect and cherish -- and he, with his sole Sharingan, was not foolish enough to think that his request did not hurt.

Those two... so grown up... only yesterday it seemed they were yelling at him for being late, how much he wanted to hear that again... and Naruto was not the only one who had changed... She was different, too...

Gone were those eyes of innocence, the little girl that he had loved to protect. That child that had given away her heart so early, only to have it shattered mercilessly, had disappeared like the past.

Where had she gone? He had asked her that once, trying to regain some of his defenses after a bout of intimacy. The taste of her had been fresh in his mouth and the memory of her body and its addictive warmth had disturbed him so he had licked his lips and decided to tease her.

Who?

That little girl who used to—

--need your protection all the time? Her tone had turned frigid and flat, startling him with its coldness.

That's not what I was going to say.

I'm not a little girl anymore, sensei. I thought you, out of all people, would have realized that by now.

He should have agreed. He should not have said anything. But then, when he was more vulnerable than he dared show, made so by her touch, he had grinned and reminded her of her slip, You called me sensei.

She had hmph-ed, gotten out of his bed, and walked to the door. It was a mistake to come here. If I had known that you still thought of me that way, I wouldn't have come in the first place.

He should have protested. He should have stopped her. But then, when he was clinging more to the past than he could admit, missing not just the one who had left willingly but also Naruto, who was so busy on missions, and her, who he was starting to see in a whole different light, he had said nothing.

...Nothing because this was so new...so wonderful...and so frightening... and damn, wasn't he a masochist anyway, never daring to give himself what he wanted...

And so, she had replied before slamming the door, back turned so that he could only see her pink hair and remember its silkiness,

The night that he left, that little girl went with him.

--------------

The sun was setting outside. Behind the curtain that separated him from the rest of the world, he laid on his back, closed his eyes, and convinced himself to relax.

Tension was no good. She would be back soon enough. Even with all their differences, their small spats, which usually involved one-sided yelling for he knew that she found silence infuriating, she always returned to him.

Even that night before she left, when he had been bedridden by injuries from a recent mission, she had visited him. Though drugged to the brim, he could remember her tender smile after he had told her not to go.

So you do care. You always have me wondering...

Her reply had been wistful, as if she wished for more time.

He had remained calm, trying to believe that she would still listen to reason. After all, in the past, hadn't she always been the first to give up? The first to realize that she was out of her league?

This quiet, reserved state had lasted until she kissed him.

Then, when their lips had touched, panic started to rise. washed over him... because... he realized... more clearly and suddenly than ever before... that she had changed... Because that little girl he had known did not kiss him like that... so desperately that made it seem as if time had frozen and that he was losing control...

It could've just been the drugs.

But no matter what it was, at that point and for the first time, he had tried to argue, hoping to deter her even when he knew that there was no hope. It was the order of the Hokage. But a part of him had remained irrationally defiant, ignoring the fact that Tsunade-sama had hand-picked the best suited for the job to go. He had seemed to forget that she was a jounin and a strong one that. All that he seemed to remember instead was that her target had once been her greatest love and how fragile she used to be around him.

That part of him had demanded that she give up, had been blunt to the point of being hurtful.

You can't fight him.

You know I can't stay until all this business is finished. He is my past.

How well he understood that. He, whose past had required so much blood and pain to put to rest and yet, haunted him on occasion when he was alone. He understood and he still fought.

You're not—

--strong enough? Still trying to protect me, Kakashi?

There had been a slight grin on her face when she said that and then, she had turned and left without saying good-bye. It had been the first time she had called him by his name alone and though he was covered in blankets and the heater was on and working, he couldn't help but feel a chill.

--------------

It was night now and she still wasn't back.

How many days now? Nearly a month.

Maybe she was already dead. Naruto, too. Both slaughtered by an old friend turned enemy. Maybe their bodies were decaying in the middle of nowhere, rotting and contaminating the air with the scent of death... He had seen it happen before, after all.

Somehow, the crutch had fallen onto the tip of his foot. He kicked it with his uninjured leg. Strong enough to slice a lightning bolt, he could've easily sent the thing through the wall. Fortunately, though he was experiencing pent-up frustration, he still maintained his rationality.

The crutch slammed hard against the wall and the room seemed to shake from the force.

Some of it, at least.

On some level, he knew that he didn't really believe that he was here. He wasn't lying uselessly on his bed, staring pointlessly at the ceiling. It was as if he was some in some surreal illusion, a trick of the mind, or even Genjutsu.

In the better reality, he was with them, fighting by their side. In the best reality, Sasuke had never left.

Uchiha Sasuke... The last of Team 7, and the worst...

If she was here, she would say he was pretending again. After all, in terms of skill and talent, the ebony-haired prodigy had always been far ahead of his teammates. But it was a stubbornness of his never to admit how attached he had been to the boy.

It had hurt. That is, when Sasuke had left to join Orochimaru. It had been like a stab in the back, mild perhaps compared to what his teammates must have felt. But the sting of betrayal was still there and it still smarted. Especially after he had lectured the brat and everything. Hmph. Maybe age was making him sentimental. He was closing in on his thirties.

But underneath the denial, underneath the resentment, he thought that maybe the pain factor had to do with the fact that they were both orphans with bloody pasts, both geniuses with an appetite for power, and both so susceptible to making horrible, terrible mistakes.

All those similarities, and the little, simple idea that he had had—that maybe his influence could stop Uchiha Sasuke from repeating the same mistakes and committing the same sins – had given him the impression that there was a bond between them.

Obviously, now that his ex-student was a missing-nin, Class A, killer of five daimyos, fifteen ANBU, and one very unsuspecting Mizukage, he had been much mistaken about the whole bond crap.

He had better not hurt her. His pragmatic side told him that no matter how much the Uchiha had fallen, he would never physically hurt the girl that had loved him so much. Yet, the side that had seen all his comrades slain and witnessed countless of other deaths, certainly not the mot pleasant experience, could not help but feel a bit worried, a bit desperate, which was a lot more than usual...

If he gives in to the curse seal...

His only hope was Naruto for no matter how strong she had become, she was no match for her old teammate. It was not just a matter of who was the better ninja. She had the softer heart and if she still had even an ounce of feeling toward him, which he knew she did... He prayed that she wouldn't do anything rash.

Keep your promise, Naruto, and I'll treat you to ramen for the rest of your life.

--------------

There was a weight next to him, cuddled close. It was the warmth that alerted him. He blinked, awakening to the sight of short, pink hair and slim shoulders against his chest. Reaching out, his fingers brushed against her cheek, ascertaining the vision's solidness.

The face turned at the touch, eyes opening and capturing him. Her hand lightly grasped his. They smiled at each other, as if they had just stumbled upon each other in a café shop.

"Hope you don't mind. My own apartment is being fumigated."

It was a lie and they both knew it.

"Ie, not at all," he answered, cheerfully enough without giving away how much he welcomed her back.

Kakashi noted the weariness that permeated her whole being. She appeared too delicate, without her usual smile and temper. She couldn't have been back for more than a few hours.

"Sasuke?"

It was odd that after all their time apart, he would bring up the reason for their separation so soon. But this had been the obstacle between them for the longest time and now, it was the first step to ending what should have ended before.

"Dead."

It was funny how a single word could turn him to ice. He tried not to feel that ache in his heart, tried not to remember that misguided boy with the sad eyes that he had believed he could help.

He felt frozen nonetheless.

"...Naruto delivered the killing blow," her face was a mask, with the tiniest of cracks, " I... I need to talk to him soon. Make sure he's alright. I owe him a lot, you know..."

And I owe him a lot of ramen...

"And you? Are you alright?"

"I will be."

But at the moment, the truth was too apparent for her to try and hide it and it was that she was far from okay. He could tell by the shadows of pain that lurked on her face and the way she tried to smile at him. Her real smiles never looked like that. He pulled her closer, "Sakura..."

She trembled, remained silent for a while, and then replied in the softest voice, as if givng a confession, "I held him while he died."

It didn't affect him, he told himself. Not the slightest bit. But the choking feeling, which resembled grief, did not lessen.

"He... he told me that he was sorry."

"And you forgave him."

His matter-of-factness made her stare and there was surprise in her sadness, "How'd you know?"

He couldn't hold back his laugh. She was too adorable, mouth gaping as if he had just recited the entire breakfast menu for Ichiraku, "Of course you would, Sakura. Out of all us, you were always the first to forgive him anything. It drove Naruto crazy."

"Not everything," she scowled, "That time when I broke my foot on a mission and he carried me. He tripped and dumped me into a brown pond. It was so gross. I couldn't get the smell out for a week."

He smiled, amused that she would forgive him for breaking her heart but not for dropping her into dirty water. It was an easy disguise for the pain, "Sasuke... tripped?"

It was completely contradictory to what he remembered about the Uchiha genius. Absurd, almost.

She went red and coughed, the explanation creeping out slowly, "He was holding me close so I... took it as an opportunity. I... uh... tried to distract him..."

"Distract him? With what?" he said skeptically, masking the amusement on his face but not completely.

"Tch, I knew you wouldn't be jealous."

"Jealous of what? You were all children back then..."

That brought back a lot of repressed memories. He could tell from the way her eyes grew nostalgic and her forehead crinkled ever so slightly with thought. And he, too, was recalling the days of Team 7 and his first impressions of the three brats that would become his most precious people... Uzumaki Naruto, the troublemaker with the most stamina... Uchiha Sasuke, the genius with the most potential... Haruno Sakura, the girl with the most heart... to his ever-growing surprise, the most precious of them all...

"Wouldn't it have been nice if we could have stayed that way forever?" she posed the question rather wistfully.

He knew her thoughts. Then she could have dreamed longer about love and happy endings instead of entering the adult world where most problems were met with hate and harsh solutions. Then Sasuke wouldn't have left to pursue his revenge. Then her heart wouldn't have broken. Then all the members of Team 7 would be alive and together.

But...

"Everyone needs to grow up," Kakashi reminded her gently, "No matter how painful it is."

"Of course! I know that! I'm not stupid," she said, trying to sound cross, "I was just... it's just..."

The whisper that followed was mournful, "...the little girl's really gone now."

He rubbed at the wetness on her cheeks. Her tears dripped soundlessly onto his fingers. Then, leaning forward, he kissed her softly.

Usually, she was the one that kissed him. Mostly because, out of the two of them, she was the one who needed the affection. Then again, they both knew that if she was the one to start it, he was always the one to keep it going.

Still, her mouth was opened slightly in surprise, as he knew it would be.

He pulled back, "Life shapes people and people shape their lives. So we're bound to change because of ourselves. Sometimes, it's hard to hold on to the people we once were. It's true that you are not the same. But in one way, you'll never change. You still have the same kind heart that you had years ago, Sakura."

He neglected to tell her that it was the thing that he loved about her, that drew him, held him, and wouldn't let go.

"Arigatou," she gazed at him, the darkness lifting from her eyes and a tender feeling sprouting in her heart. The past was dead now, but the future was ready and waiting. And for a kiss, too. She could tell that much, even if his mysteriousness hadn't faded much over the years.

She put her hand on his mouth.

"In some ways, you'll never change either, Kakashi."

He stared, uncomprehending.

"You still wear that damn thing everywhere," she tugged the mask downward, "This is how real people kiss."

He felt her arms curl around his neck and pull him closer. And as the heat spread over the both of them and their mouths met, sweet and salty, the gentle pressure growing increasingly passionate, it was as if all the pain and loneliness in their lives had been traded in for this one moment, as if all the coldness had never been.

------------------

He is beautiful.

Both of them, really.

From her place on the hospital bed, she watches him as he holds their son, the most perfect expression of bliss on his face. She has never seen him so unguarded, so utterly without pretense.

The mask is gone. A smile slowly creeping out and eyes shining with the sight of a precious person, it is more than obvious that The Copy Ninja is completely taken with the boy in his arms. No need to look underneath the underneath there...

He looks at her from across the room, and the distance is suddenly nothing. With just this soft, heartfelt gaze, she knows that he is thanking her for giving him the world in a child...

Contentedly, she closes her eyes and leans back against the pillow that is supporting her. When she awakes again, he is sitting on a stool by her side. She looks anxiously at his empty arms and he motions toward the nearby crib where its inhabitant is fast asleep.

Relief brings with it a yawn. Ah, she is still tired and he knows it.

His hand is in her hair, stroking it, and the motion is more than reassuring to the new mother.

Go back to sleep, Sakura.

Hai, hai, she murmurs before giving herself up to the warmth that is beckoning her. She is drifting off again, when sudden impulse opens her eyes for one last glimpse.

He is standing at the crib, staring down protectively and tenderly, more pride on his face than she has ever seen for now that she thinks of it, he has never once boasted of his strength...

It is enough. With him in the dim light, silver hair gleaming while the rest of him remains cloaked in shadows, and the child, serenely unaware, it is enough to make her remember her words of that dark night so long ago. She had left him without telling him everything.

He was my past... But you are my future... I'm so glad I grew up with you, Kakashi...

She falls asleep then, a gentle smile on her face, accompanied by a sweet secret. She knows without waking that he will be there in the morning.

And it is enough.

A/N: Whew, this one took forever... I wanted to portray Kakashi getting over the whole 'she's-my-student' syndrome that I felt he would have and I wanted Sakura to get over her Sasuke fixation, but not by simply realizing that he didn't care for her. (After all, I AM a SasuSaku fan.) So yeah, I had to kill Sasuke. Which, I hope dearly, won't happen in the actual series though it does seem a possibility... (sniff) Other than that, though, I couldn't get any good ideas so gomen if it doesn't come off too well. (I DO have a series sort of Kaka/Saku in mind though...) Anyways, still working on one-shots. Up next: Ino/Shika and a Kaka/Sasu (nonyaoi). For Neptune47. Hopefully, I'll finish before summer... (sweatdrop)