Last night brought so many questions that troubled the copy-nin after Sakura's unusual fit. Instead of walking her back to Gaara's home, he led her back to the room he rented. When they got there, Sakura started telling him things so frantically that he was unable to understand some of them.
His weary eye trailed over to the woman sleeping on his bed. After putting her offer to reconsideration, Kakashi ended up declining her and that made her upset. He could see it in her eyes, the hurt his rejection caused. All she did was look at him miserably before hiding herself within the quilts of his bed. She asked him to stay the night with her, and Kakashi completely obliged. But they were doing nothing asides from sleeping. Sakura understood that and eventually fell asleep without protest. Kakashi decided it was only the best thing to occur since there was nothing much he could do to calm her down if she would not tell him anything. It pained him to see her like this, disturbed and depressed.
He was starting to think this whole ordeal was affecting her greatly. There was a part of him that regretted his decision of letting Tsunade train Sakura. If Sakura had stayed under his wing, none of this would happen. But Tsunade's the best teacher Sakura could ever have. They're almost alike… from attitude to strength… he remembered that time when he used the bell challenge as training for Naruto and Sakura after two years of learning under the two Densetsu no Sannin. He couldn't believe the improvements they underwent. Naruto definitely matured… and as for Sakura… she had always been a genjutsu type. And if she worked hard, she might be able to surpass the Fifth.
Tsunade's responsible for shaping Sakura. I gave nothing but the basics. No matter how he put it, he just realized how much he really neglected his duty to his other two students. At that time, he was too focused on remodelling Sasuke.
Rubbing a hand down his weary face, he got up from his chair and went to bed. He sat there for a few minutes, just watching Sakura's deep breathing. What's going on? Her usually vibrant eyes were filled with fear earlier that night. It gave him the feeling that there's something going around under his nose. Pinching the bridge of his nose between his eyes, Kakashi began to recall everything that happened from the day he and Naruto arrived in Suna.
Nothing really happened out of the ordinary as far as he could remember. Even Sasuke didn't look suspicious at all.
It was quarter to two and he himself felt awfully tired. Removing his shoes, he slipped into the bed and drew Sakura to him. The girl did not stir but happily snuggled under his chin. With his arms wrapped around her securely, Kakashi finally succumbed to sleep.
Kankurou turned away from his strategist and faced the now-breathless ANBU, "What is it?"
"They'll be here by nightfall, sir. All six are heading this way." The ANBU reported.
"I see. Have you informed squad three and four?"
"Hai. They're all in position."
Kankurou nodded sombrely, "Inform the Kazekage right away."
"Hai." With that said, the ANBU disappeared through a swish of air and leaves.
As of now, they're planning on exterminating some of the transporters and leave a few to make the kidnapping of Haruno Sakura authentic. They couldn't just give her away and leave. They had to do something that would deceive the six Amegakure nins as well as Orochimaru, if he really was behind this.
"Kankurou!" He turned and saw a Sunagakure nin running towards him, "We're ready."
Kankurou then looked up and stared at the crack of dawn "Then we wait…"
Sakura stirred as she opened her eyes to regard the man holding her. As her brain began to register the events that happened last night, she suddenly felt the rush of shame wash over her. Too desperate for his touch, she even begged him to sleep with her. Fortunately, Kakashi was not the type of person who takes advantage over disoriented women. She was miserable last night and Kakashi was far too considerate to refuse her and even suggested that she should sleep it off.
Sighing off her infamy, Sakura carefully released herself from tangled limbs and climbed off the bed without stirring him. By the looks of it, it seemed Kakashi stayed up late and adequate rest was very much needed to compensate. Sakura was grateful for this and cheered herself for the success of getting up without waking the copy-nin.
For a moment she just stood there, watching him and at the same time willing herself not to cry. A bitter smile tugged the corner of her lips, "I'll come back, so don't worry…" Sakura then leaned in to lay a feather-light kiss on his forehead one last time. Her eyes drifted close as she felt a little reluctant to pull back… to let go.
"I'm sorry." Came her desperate whisper before withdrawing. She headed towards the door and stepped out with no hesitation.
Neither did she know that her voice floated through his drowsy mind, nor that it roused him from his sleep. Kakashi's eye opened only to find her back disappearing behind the door.
Somewhere in the Fire country, a group of black suited nins rushed through the lush forest.
"Taichou!" one Amegakure nin called as he ran beside the commanding officer, "Don't you think it's a little risky going straight into the target?"
Shoda smirked, "We'll just get the girl and head off."
"I know." The nin nodded, "But… I can't shake the feeling that something's not right."
"What could possibly go wrong?" Shoda questioned his subordinate accompanied with a hardened glare, "We're the best transporters made known to mankind and no squad can tear us down. However, the only task handed to us was the girl. Fighting them is not necessary unless they get in the way."
"We're separating in three teams. Amano, you go with me. The rest of you, spread." He signalled with a motion of his fingers.
"Hai!" immediately, the other four disappeared to different directions.
The one called Amano moved closer to his captain, "Any plan B, taichou?"
Shoda eyed him sternly, "Do you doubt my strategy?"
Amano lowered his head in shame, wishing that he did not bother to ask, "Forgive me, taichou. I trust your precision in every plan… but I want to make sure that…"
"Spit it out." Shoda snapped, all the while running into the dusty ground.
The other nin was a little hesitant when he told his taichou, "We've been doing this for so long. This is the longest job we've ever done. And to think we're only retrieving a pathetic medic girl." He no longer hid his particular distaste towards their target.
"You very well know who our client is, Amano. I quite expected it to be a little strenuous on our part." Shoda looked at him over his shoulder, "We're going to get the girl before sunset. I will make sure of that so we can finally get out hands to our reward after." He waited until the other accepted his answer before they geared and sped up.
Time is limited and they're not wasting any of it… not a second.
The room was quiet and a little warmer than the usual. The two occupants of the room however showed no sign of discomfort. Not at least about the temperature.
Gaara was overlooking the city upon the veranda, both hands tucked behind him. Sakura stood still behind, waiting for him to say something.
"The sun will be up in a few minutes." Gaara dully noted, "It will take you eight hours to reach the first squad. Kankurou will be there to keep you safe until the mission starts. You will stay inside one of the tents and feign innocence. We will cover the rest of the transporters and will spare a few so someone will take you to him…" lowering his eyes to the ground, Sabaku no Gaara realized he felt something akin to guilt for sending someone so young on such dangerous assignment. "Everything will go as planned. I was informed that the whole pack's heading this way. They will arrive by sunset…" if he were to choose, he would have planned something that did not involve sacrifices. But it seemed the Fifth has her reasons as to why she's surrendering her top student.
Sakura never faltered and tried to look passive, "Then I should be heading off…"
They shared companionable silence for awhile before Gaara turned to face her, "You don't have to do this." It's sad that she's the one tasked to do this. He could almost imagine how Naruto would react once he learned about this.
It surprised him, however, when the girl snickered, "Don't say things like that, Kazekage-sama." A tight smile lifted her lips, "I might believe you…" she knew she can't quit. It's been decided. She has to go. What are you so depressed about? You desire to be recognized… you want to make a title for yourself… and when this is all over, you will be viewed by many as a courageous kunoichi. You can now enter ANBU… Somehow it made her feel bitterer.
Gaara fixedly gazed at her, "Why?"
Sakura looked up to him with arched brows, egging him to continue.
Gaara's unblinking, steely eyes never wavered, "Why do you want to do this?"
She was surprised and then sad all of a sudden. The forced smile on her face only showed depression and nothing else, "Konoha is my home and I will do everything to keep it safe. Even if being the sacrificial lamb means keeping the peace we all desire, I will still do it." Then she looked straight into his eyes with full determination, "I want to protect Konoha." Such a simple answer voiced everything she wanted to say.
Gaara felt himself smiling a little. Again, he suddenly felt envious at Naruto for having a friend like Haruno Sakura. People like her are hard to find these days.
"See me when this is over." Sakura's eyes widened a fraction as she watched the Kazekage turn away from her, "When this is over…" another pause almost made Sakura's breathing hitch, "… you will visit me… as a friend."
Sakura never dreamed of hearing those words from him. She looked stunned for a second and then slowly, a thankful smile resurfaced. For some reasons, her heart started soaring, "Y-yes. Of course… Gaara-kun." For a second she regretted calling him so casually. But when Gaara did nothing but approach her and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, Sakura knew she was given the permission to address him as such.
Sakura stepped out of the Kazekage's office glumly. The friendship Gaara offered lightened her spirits somehow. The moment she set foot outside of the said office, goose bumps prickled her skin. Feeling like she was being watched, she raising her head, something immediately caught her eyes as a soft gasp escaped her lips.
"Kakashi." She stared at him with utter disbelief and blatant fear.
The said copy-nin was standing outside, looking at her. His eyes hardly showed any signs of emotion; today, however, was an exception. Kakashi did not bother to mask the disappointment he felt upon Sakura's betrayal. His jaw was set firmly and she could tell his mouth was in a tight line beneath that mask.
Finding no more reason to deny and feign innocence, Sakura tried to avoid his eyes instead. "H-how long have you been standing there?" came her weak question.
"Enough." His voice was deep and overpowering that it made her whole body tremble. The way she guiltily lowered her head infuriated him all the more. He approached her and firmly grabbed her arm, causing the girl to gasp and wince from the forcefulness of it. Hatake Kakashi was beyond angry right now. He was mad. He couldn't believe Sakura kept something like this from him.
Sakura tried to release herself from his sturdy grip, "It hurts… let me go!" she the felt utterly humiliated when the Maiya, Gaara's secretary who was asked to go to work far too early, openly stared at them.
Kakashi neither wanted to make a scene, so he transported themselves into the deserted rooftop of the building. He released her swiftly, almost making her topple backwards as he turned away from her.
The pink-haired kunoichi felt terrible as her heart continued to constrict painfully inside her chest that she found it so difficult to breathe.
"Sakura… why?" He now knew why she looked so sad last night and why she sought comfort in his arms. She was saying goodbye to him…
Kakashi followed her the moment she stepped out of the inn and found himself standing in front of the Kazekage's office. He didn't mean to eavesdrop on them but ended up doing so. At first he was in denial. He hadn't expected this entirely since he knew Tsunade would not let any harm come upon Sakura. But he was wrong. He should have known better, though, since he already knew the fact that Konoha always comes first. Situations like this happened before, where people were sacrificed for the sake of the village's safety. But this situation was different. Just the thought of it makes him sick from the bitter acid forming in the pits of his stomach. He swore to protect her… and he never backs down from his word.
All she could do was to gaze hopelessly at the man before her. If there was anything she could do to change her fate, she wouldn't hesitate to do it. Unfortunately, there were none.
"I want to understand… but I can't." He suddenly felt ashamed for lashing at her like that. She doesn't deserve it. "Does that make me illogical?"
Sakura absently rubbed the stinging part of her arm as she steadily replied, "Kakashi… I'm doing this for Konoha. You of all people should understand."
"I understand that as a nin of my village… but not as Hatake Kakashi." He retaliated logically and she immediately fell silent. He turned to her and lured her unwavering gaze towards him, "I ask you to refuse this mission right away."
"You know I can't do that."
"You can if you try."
"It's not easy."
"We'll make it easy."
"You're not making any sense!" Sakura argued.
"Can you blame me?"
That finally threw her off. Sakura looked up in frustration, and even though she did not retaliate, her face told a story of its own.
Kakashi wanted to yell at her so badly but decided against it. Running a hand through his hair, he tried to think of ways on how to convince Sakura to quit the stupid mission.
"An opportunity like this can't be passed up!"
"I don't care about an opportunity that involves you dying!" He threw at her a little angrily.
Sakura bristled at that, "Do you think I'll let myself die? Does this have something to do with me being weak again?"
Kakashi growled in frustration, "I told you, you're far from weak as you presume to be." A little piece of memory when Sakura, with her inhuman strength smashed the ground where he was hiding during their bell exam five years ago crossed his mind.
"Then what is it?? What's your problem?" she shot back.
He gave a look that screamed 'How come you don't know?', "How can you let this happen behind my back? Why didn't you tell me?" he wanted to chastise her about her rash decision making but his words retreated soon as it arrived at the tip of his tongue.
"It's because I knew you'd react like this!"
Kakashi abolished their argument quickly by turning away. He couldn't understand why he suddenly lost control of his emotions. He usually doesn't start any quarrel with anyone given any situation. But Sakura… what Sakura just did almost ruined his pride. He's supposed to protect her and what she just did made that impossible. Tsunade made sure he wasn't involved in this mission. With that little fact, there's nothing much he can do.
"It has to be done… and quick. I already gave my word to the Fifth, Kakashi. You might have already heard the details back there," she slightly pointed at the fact that Kakashi's starting to develop his habit of eavesdropping.
Unfazed, Kakashi shook his head and tried again, "What if you fail? This is no ordinary S-class mission, Sakura. If you succeed, you will be forced to stay with Orochimaru until he's dead. And if you fail, you will die." He couldn't understand why she's not affected by his cryptic description on her current situation, "It's a lose-lose situation. Neither of the two options can secure your life."
Sakura mentally chuckled. The last thing she wanted to discuss right now was the chances of her survival. She already accepted it but hearing it coming from his mouth makes her think twice. Thinking twice, however, is not wise at this moment.
Kakashi almost misunderstood the smile that crossed the woman's face. But the moment she turned and gaze afar from where she's standing next to the baluster, his anger slowly simmered down.
The wind blew the pink tresses around her shoulders, almost shrouding her face away from his view.
"I can't just quit. This is—this is important to me… the perfect opportunity to do something heroic. Did you know that I can join ANBU once I complete this mission? To be recognized as a strong kunoichi and to fully serve my village... I've always wanted that." she said particularly to no one as she ignored her hair getting all messed up. "It's good for my records."
Kakashi's tense muscles began to relax as he willed himself to listen.
"For once… I want to be selfish." her grip on the balustrade tightened.
Despite of the softness of her voice, the wind clearly sent the message to his ears.
Sakura wished he took that chance to hug her and whisper consoling words in her ear. Unfortunately, Kakashi was not the most romantic type of person.
"Do you want to know how I'm feeling right now?" he asked lightly, both their backs turned to each other. "Sakura, I'm afraid." A confession like that coming from Hatake Kakashi was uncalled for and it effectively surprised the medic nin but kept still and quiet. "I won't know if you're safe or not. And the idea that you're going to be under Orochimaru's control disturbs me… I'm afraid that you'll never make it back."
"Kakashi, why can't you trust me?" She quickly turned only to see him already staring at her. Her eyes stung but no tears accompanied it this time.
He kept his gaze for who knows how long. Sakura willed herself not to look away and waited.
"You've already decided. Don't let me hold you back." And then he turned to walk away but came into a halt when he felt his arm caught in a firm grip. He didn't need to look to see who owns those hands.
Swallowing thickly, she whispered, "I love you, you know that right?"
Kakashi wanted to return the words, but nothing came out of his mouth. Sakura's important to him… but love is something he's still struggling to accept. The word is too profound and has a myriad of meanings. It is also puzzling and difficult to understand… especially to people like Kakashi who don't wear their heart on their sleeves.
Sakura needed not hear any profession of love from him. She thought it was enough that she can feel it. The tightening of her hold signified her confusion and made Kakashi turn and look at her. Smiling softly, she cupped his face and shook her head, "You don't have to say it."
Feeling like all the air was blown out from his lungs, he closed his eyes and tried to calm the upsurge of emotions within him.
"I will wait for you." He said firmly, voice resolved.
With eyes widening a fraction, Sakura felt like a huge burden was taken off from her shoulders. Nodding, she told him gently, "We'll see each other again…"
And then Kakashi removed his mask, pulled her towards him and sealed their promise with a kiss as the sun rose into the horizon.
"What do you mean we're leaving?"
Kakashi stopped mid-step as the blonde hurried to face him. Sasuke sat up on his bed and looked skeptically at their ex-sensei.
"I said we're going back to Konoha." Kakashi drawled, too tired to argue.
Naruto bit his lip, "But not without Sakura!"
Sasuke noticed Kakashi's shoulders tense at the mentioning of Sakura's name. They were stunned when Kakashi rudely entered their room and told the big news. He said the Fifth was asking them to return quickly. But when they asked where Sakura was, all Kakashi did was turn away and repeat his order.
"Pack up. I'll meet you at the gate." Kakashi started walking ahead.
And then the door was shut.
Surprisingly, Kakashi arrived on time. This worried the two all the more.
"Let's go." He again avoided their questioning glares and went ahead.
Sasuke felt his temper rising and the next thing he knew, he was clutching the front of the copy-nin's shirt.
Naruto was startled at the action and watched the scene before him silently.
"You're hiding something, sensei." Sasuke snarled. There's no way Sakura could disappear just like that. It's impossible for the Fifth to ask for their return without her top student. Everything doesn't make sense and he's certain the copy-nin is very much aware on what's going on.
Kakashi kept composed and stared down on the remaining Uchiha, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Where the hell is she?" Sasuke demanded angrily. He's clearly losing his patience with Kakashi's phony innocence.
"I don't know." He apathetically replied.
"The fuck you don't know!" Sasuke went far by slamming him against the wall.
"Oi Sasuke!" Naruto called but didn't move to pull Sasuke back. He, too, was a little miffed that Kakashi's acting like nothing's wrong.
"Where-is-she??" his grip tightened, getting angrier at the fact that Kakashi's not struggling.
"You don't have to know."
Sasuke's eyes narrowed into slits, "What did you say?"
Kakashi closed his eyes and in a snap, he was out of Sasuke's grip. The Uchiha was shock when he felt the sandy ground beneath him. When did he— He looked up and saw him fixing his ruined shirt and vest. Even Naruto could not believe what he had just seen. It was so fast.
"Let the Fifth explain this matter to you. I'm in no place to tell you anything." With one final tug on his vest, Kakashi turned on his heels and left the two baffled men behind.
"Please don't tell them anything. I mean, it's still shishou's decision, you know." Sakura smiled forlornly. She knew she just broke the agreement she had with Tsunade since Kakashi's very much informed now.
Kakashi nodded, "I'll keep my mouth shut. But I doubt that will keep them from forcing me to spill the beans."
Sakura chuckled, "I know. It'll get irritating… on your part, that is."
"They're both adults and still act like they just hit puberty. I'll have to deal with them until we reach Konoha." The older jounin quipped.
"Well, good luck." The medic mocked.
"Easy for you to say." The copy-nin gave a knowing smirk. "You'll have to make up for this."
Blushing lightly, Sakura looked away, "Sure. As soon as I get back, I'll make it up to you."
Looking up, Kakashi softly mused to himself what the last words he said to her that morning were, "I'm looking forward to it."