A/N: Last chapter, numbering at roughly 14000 words, so it's twice as long as usual. Hope you enjoy it. :3

Think of me when you close your eyes,

But don't look back when you break all ties,

Sakura left her apartment with a spring in her step the next morning. She offered strangers unsolicited smiles as she passed them by, thoroughly confusing most of them and downright alarming the rest. Some of them assumed that this was a girl who was thoroughly enjoying the fine, temperate Konoha weather after having suffered through the blistering heat of the desert for the past few days. Others assumed she'd simply gotten laid. None of them would have really believed that she'd effectively had her heart ripped out and stomped on last night.

She'd be lying if she said Kakashi hadn't hurt her, but what he didn't realize was that he'd unwittingly opened up a window of opportunity for Sakura to take advantage of. Because the way to a copy ninja's heart was not through his pants; it was through friendship.

Technically, she supposed she already had his heart; or had at least earmarked it. Her name was stamped across the organ in bold, but Kakashi was not going to give it up without a fight. He needed time to see that he could trust her with his heart, and that he himself could be trusted with hers in return. All they needed was a common ground – a foundation with which to build from. A friendship.

However, Kakashi's friendship was not an easy thing to gain. Even now she had her doubts that he considered her a friend according to most people's definition of the word. He had acquaintances and colleagues, bosses and subordinates, but all those people were kept at arm's length. Kakashi was a perfectly friendly person who could get on easily with just about anyone, but he seemed to fear getting close to others like a hypochondriac in a leper colony. As far as she knew, he'd never invited anyone to be a 'friend' to him. In his haste to reverse their relationship back into safe territory, he'd inadvertently presented her with the very thing she'd been asking for.

Even if it took ten years, she would prove to him that they could succeed together.

But three days was really all she needed.

Now, Sakura had seen movies and soap operas and read dozens of books on subject of love, and she knew plenty of ways in which a man could be enticed. Mostly it seemed to involve wearing less clothes, acting like a completely different person and bending down in provocative poses while flirting with other men in an attempt to bring the green-eyed monster to the table.

Sakura knew that if she really wanted, she could make Kakashi crumble at her feet with barely more than a crooked finger in his direction. He'd proved how little resistance he had to her body last night. She may still have lacked the kind of experience someone like Kakashi had, but that didn't seem to matter. If she gave him enough provocation, he would respond in kind.

But Sakura had done all that, and she knew this was not the way to solve anything. Only a few days ago, she'd presumed that sex was the solution; that if she could just push him far enough to forget his reasons and restraints, he would be hers.

She was a little wiser now. Sex was just sex, and not the consummation of love she had believed it to be. Or at least, that was how Kakashi saw things. Kakashi's heart and body were in two very different places, as was the case with most exemplary ninjas who could detach themselves from the earthly restraints of this pesky thing called 'emotion'. While Sakura saw love and sex as pretty much the same thing (and still did, despite all that had happened), to Kakashi, physical intimacy did not broach emotional intimacy. To get him to open up to her completely, she would have to come at him from a purely platonic angle.

Gaining Kakashi's trust would be hard. Flirting with other men, and dressing up to appeal to him sexually was only going to be counterproductive. Besides which, she wasn't all that confident with her flirting skills, and she would be too self-conscious to openly flaunt her body. Sex was not her arena. However, being a friend was precisely what she excelled at. With a teacher like Naruto, she could say with confidence that she'd learned from the best.

Sakura arrived in the doorway of Kakashi's apartment block and carefully selected the call button for a Mr. 'Takahashi' in apartment six. Of course, Mr. Takahashi's apartment was actually Kakashi's… he just had yet to find the time (since he'd moved in ten years ago) to change the name next to his buzzer. She bounced on the balls of her feet impatiently and stared out over the morning crowds on the street while she waited for a reply. It was a long time coming. And just when Sakura was about to buzz him again, a crackle sounded through the speaker, followed by a very rough just-got-out-of-bed-and-gurgled-some-glass-shards kind of voice.


Kakashi was less of a morning person than she'd realized. Although, she reckoned this was probably the first night of proper sleep he'd had since he'd been hospitalized. No wonder he sounded rough.

"Hey, it's me," she said brightly. "Get dressed. We're going to the hospital."

There was a long, fuzzy silence on the other end. She could almost see him leaning against his living room wall in his bed hair and pajamas, squinting at the floor in confusion and dread. Or perhaps he didn't wear pajamas. Perhaps he was naked?


The speaker crackled again. "What?"

"Hospital: we're going there," she said more slowly. "You need a check-up on your eye."

Another dull beat of silence, and then…


Sakura sighed. "If you don't come down in five minutes, I'm breaking in and dragging you there, Kakashi. You know I will."

"Sakura," he croaked through the intercom, "I don't think this is wise…"

She'd been prepared for this, and had lined up an impenetrable line of defense that she'd learned from Naruto. "Kakashi, as your friend," she said, stressing the operative word, "I'm worried about you. Please come to the hospital just so we can check you over and make sure everything's healing as it should?"

It was dirty and underhanded, playing on his own desire for them to simply be friends to coerce him. Friends worried about each other didn't they? Surely she was well within her rights, as a friend, to escort him to the hospital where she could lift up his shirt and check his heartbeat? Maybe true friends would not take the opportunity to ogle his body, but details, details

"Alright," she heard him say tiredly. "Give me five minutes."

He came down after fifteen, looking for all appearances like a man who had resigned himself to a firing squad. This image wasn't improved much when the moment he laid eyes on her, his shoulders dipped in even further defeat. "I like your… hat thing."

"Oh…" she said, reaching up to touch it self-consciously, just as she'd done in the elevator in Suna. "It's just part of the medic uniform…"

Ok, so perhaps she was supposed to be coming at him from the platonic angle, but it didn't hurt to give him a little reminder….

Why Kakashi found her uniform a turn-on escaped her. It was quite conservative with a skirt that was actually longer than the customary shorts she wore beneath it and a tailored jacket that pinned together at one side and left absolutely everything to the imagination. Her arms were covered, her collar fastened tightly around her throat, offering no glimpse of cleavage that Jiraiya's fictional nurse uniforms often gave, and her hat was simply an old-fashioned female equivalent of the hood that the male medics had to wear. Sakura had looked in the mirror that morning and had never felt so un-sexy in her life.

But for some reason it had gotten to Kakashi that one time… and for that she would wear it again. Just to watch his face crumple in despair if nothing else.

"Come on," she chirped, slipping her cool fingers through his warmer calloused ones without permission, before proceeding to drag him out onto the street in the direction of the hospital. Out of mercy she released him once he was moving at a satisfactory pace since she could feel the tenseness radiating through him at their point of contact. She tried a sunny smile on him, but to her chagrin he wasn't looking. He seemed preoccupied in a search for something as he patted down his vest and pockets and peeked into the pouches on his belt.

"Lost something?" she asked out of curiosity.

"My book…" he muttered, growing increasingly frantic in his search.

"Oh." Sakura had the decency to bite her lip and look away guiltily.

Instantly Kakashi was onto her. "What did you do?"

She gave him an affronted look. "Me? I didn't do anything!" she protested. "It was Naruto and Sasuke."

Kakashi looked confused. "Why would they-"

"Because they know what happened, ok?" she said bluntly. Her face grew hot and she had to turn away, pretending to examine the buildings on her other side. "They weren't happy, as you can imagine, so they promised to get even with you. You should be thankful they didn't carry out their initial threat of beating you to a pulp."

A burning gaze was drilling a hole in the back of her head, but Sakura didn't dare meet it. "You told them?" he asked quietly.

"No," she said quietly. "They figured it out. And even if they hadn't they would have found out eventually because I'm sure by now that half the village knows thanks to Kiba."

"You told Kiba?" he asked.

"No!" She turned to him angrily. "I didn't tell anyone! They all just figured it out! And what does it matter? It's over now. It's in the past. That chapter in our lives is closed and we're moving on. It's all just water under the bridge."

At that point Sakura ran out of euphemisms for 'dumped' and sealed her lips while anxious fingers twined together in a damning display of guilt. But what did she have to feel guilty about? She hadn't told anyone, and even if they knew, she was determined that it wouldn't matter. Because if it did matter… well, then Kakashi would be right and this wouldn't work.

They walked on in further silence until Kakashi cracked. "Then… what did they do with my book?"

"Books," she corrected. "Well, um, I think they might have buried them in the woods."

Kakashi thought for a moment. "Lot of woods around here…"

"Just get Jiraiya-sama," she pointed out. "He can sniff out porn like a bloodhound." It was a skill rivaled only by Sasuke's ability to recognize the chemical content of hair-care products at fifty paces.

"Nifty skill," he admitted. "But it's not all porn you know."

Sakura snorted her disbelief, earning her a bewildered look.

"It's true!" he protested. "Jiraiya has some very witty and poignant social commentary running through the entire series."

"And that's what you're giggling at all the time?" She raised an incredulous eyebrow.

"I do not giggle," he denied, in a slightly lower voice than he would normally use.

"You do. You giggle like a little girl." She almost laughed at his pout. "It's what makes all the genin so afraid of you. It's not because you're a bully or a hard-ass – it's your giggle. It's enough to make anyone wet the bed."

"Now you're just making fun of me," he sighed.

Sakura held up her thumb and forefinger to indicate a small amount. "A little bit," she confessed.

Kakashi shook his head. "Remember a time when you used to respect me?"

"Hmm?" She playfully bumped against his side. To his credit, he only stumbled a little. She did the same thing to Naruto sometimes and the poor boy would go flying. "I still respect you. Some days more than others."

Yesterday, for instance, had been a pretty low point.

"I see," he mused.

By then they were already at the hospital. Sakura led him indoors and paused at reception to pick up a clean chart and check the roster of who was in and who was out. Examination room twelve on the fourth floor was empty, so Sakura brusquely beckoned Kakashi to follow her to the elevator.

Belatedly, as she pressed the call button, she remembered what Kakashi had told her about the last time he'd been stuck in an elevator with her while she was dressed in her uniform…

Stealing a glance at Kakashi didn't tell her much. As the doors slid open with a polite bing, they both stepped inside and turned to watch them slide shut again. While it was at least twice as roomy, the compartment lacked the mirrors of the hotel elevator, and smelt strongly of disinfectant. Sakura stared furtively at the chipped nail polish on her toes while Kakashi watched the security camera in the corner above him.

"I know what you're doing," he said quietly.

Sakura lifted her gaze, but only as far as the control panel on the wall. "Good. I hate it when I have to explain procedures to patients."

She knew that wasn't what he meant, but she wasn't going to roll over and give up just yet. Besides he didn't really know what she was doing. He only thought he did. The reality of what she was trying to achieve was something more complex than a cheeky little reminder of one of his fantasies.

The moment the doors opened again, Sakura strode out and heading straight for the examination room. At the end of the corridor, Tsunade with standing with Shizune, going over someone's medical chart, and the moment she spotted Sakura and Kakashi she gave a faint acknowledging nod and went back to her conversation.

Sakura pointed at the door to room twelve. "You can wait in there. I just need to get some things."

"I don't have to take anything off do I?" he asked dryly.

"It's hard to stop you sometimes," she teased cheerfully, heading off to the storage cupboard. As she passed Tsunade and Shizune, she heard her shishou give a very definite sigh.

"That takes me back, Shizune," she said, stepping aside to let Sakura into the cupboard she was blocking.

"Tsunade-sama?" Shizune asked. Sakura listened in absently while she searched the shelves for supplies.

"Bringing your lover to work to play some authentic doctor," said Tsunade, amused. "We've all done it."

"Tsunade-shishou!" Sakura hissed, turning to give the Hokage a bewildered look, a blood pressure armband dangling from her hands. Mercifully, Kakashi had disappeared into the examination room, but that was still no guarantee that he couldn't hear them.

"What?" Tsunade asked, innocently. "I've no problem with it, Sakura. Just as long as you clean up after yourselves."

"But – I'm – we're not – shishou!" Sakura grabbed for a spare optometric kit and clutched it to her chest. "I'm just giving him a check-up, that's all!"

"Yeah, I used to give Dan the old check-up," Tsunade sighed nostalgically to a vaguely smiling Shizune. "I sometimes used to let him play the doctor, but he kept confusing the jugular with the subclavian. It was very annoying, and I wouldn't let him do it after that."

It was best just to grab what she needed and make a quick escape. Although, she thought on hindsight, as she hurried back to the examination room, this was a good thing. Tsunade was clearly aware that something was going on, and she had taken it all in her stride. Sakura only hoped that the rest of Konoha took it as well as her.

She could only dream her parents took it well. Fortunately, they did not move in the same social circles as ninjas so it was unlikely they'd find out, and Sakura had no intention of enlightening them… at least not until the wedding date was set.

When she arrived back in the room, Kakashi was seated on the paper covered bed against the wall. His clothes were all still on his person, much to her dismay, but what had she expected? A completely stripped copy-nin waiting for her with a rose between his teeth?

"I want to look at your eye," she said straight away, unzipping the optometry kit. "So off with the hitai-ate."

Kakashi wasn't the easiest patient in the world. While his stoic high-tolerance for pain was a godsend at times, his cooperation was abysmal. When she flashed the light in his eyes, he squinted and tried to turn away. "Stop being a baby," she ordered shortly, grabbing his chin to drag him back. "Focus on the wall behind me."

"Your head's in the way," he pointed out.

"Pretend it's not," she said, shrugging. "And stop blinking."

"It's hurting my eyes."

Stab the man multiple times in the chest and he'd brush it off as a flesh wound. Shine a little penlight in his eyes and he'd literally dissolve into tears – although, to his credit, a lot of people's eyes watered during eye exams of this nature. Sakura took her time, hovering her lens over the sharingan and his ordinary eye, comparing the two. She had to lean very close to do this, and she was aware that Kakashi had actually stopped breathing. He didn't like close scrutiny in any form, but she had a feeling it was more to do with that he didn't want to breathe in her soap and shampoo any more than necessary.

"Ok," she said, leaning back, having made him hold his breath long enough. "Your right eye is fine. Twenty-twenty, same as usual. The sharingan however is… well, it's deteriorating. Have you noticed you're going increasingly myopic?"

He glanced around the room, closing one eye and then the other, comparing the two. "A little…" he said mildly, which probably meant 'a lot'.

"If you keep using the mangekyou, it'll only get worse," she said, biting her lip. "What's more, you might even trigger a degenerative condition that will leave you blind completely, whether or not you use it."

"I know," he said blithely, as if he didn't care.

"You're only to use it in an emergency, Kakashi."

"You think I didn't?" he shot at her. "You think saving your life is not an emergency?"

She pouted at him. "I won't forgive myself if you lose an eye over it."

He stared at her for a long moment before turning away. "It's not my eye to lose."

With a sigh, Sakura moved away to fetch the stethoscope and the blood pressure kit. "Whoever's it is, you need to take care of it. Now lift up your shirt, I need to listen to your heart."

Well, that wasn't strictly true. She was pretty sure his heart was fine, but it was a standard check-up and she was well within her rights to ask him to strip as much as possible.

Giving her a ever so slightly dirty look (and probably knowing exactly what she was up to) Kakashi unzipped his flak vest and shrugged out of it. His black overall followed, and, at her prompting smile, so did his nylon vest and mask. Sakura gave him a cheerful, platonic smile and warmed the stethoscope between her hands before placing it against his chest.

His heart beat strong and loud in her ears. An unbreakable rhythm that drove an unbreakable man. Sakura could fall asleep listening to that sound; each thump weaved a feeling of warmth and comfort, making her eyes slide shut with a soft sigh as she bitterly wished he had let her lie a little longer in that hotel bed with him, so she could have pressed her ear to his chest and listened to this wonderful sound.

After a moment she realized she'd been listening a bit too long and have herself a sharp mental shake. She moved the stethoscope down to his stomach and under his arm, listening from all angles. "Turn around, please," she told him, and he complied somewhat stiffly. Presented with his back, she pressed the stethoscope to the left of his spine and leant in, close enough to smell the warm tangy scent of his skin. "Cough, please."



"A- HEM."

Everything seemed to be in perfect working order, but Sakura lingered on a bit, her eyes roaming his back. It really was a splendid example of male perfection. Not so long ago she had healed a nasty burn near his shoulder, but now there are nothing but flawless skin. She had to admire her own handiwork… though she simply admired him more.

Her gaze wandered further down his back where something caught her interest and brought a frown to her face. A long, pale white line punctuated with dots on either side ran around his waist on his right. The scar had to have been at least six inches long, and there was no mistaking it was surgical. If Sakura didn't know any better, she would be thought he'd had a kidney operation.


She touched the scar inquisitively and felt him flinch. A slow smile spread across her face. "I thought you said you weren't ticklish?"

"I'm not," he retorted.

"Oh?" Sakura said, then swiftly ran a finger from the base of his spine up. Kakashi gasped and his back snapped straight, trying to escape the sensation. Sakura merely smiled at his perturbed expression and moved away to set her stethoscope down. "You appear to be in good nick," she informed him, leaning on the desk opposite his gurney. "Have you had any headaches?"

"One, but it was mild," he admitted.

"Any more nosebleeds?"

"More?" He looked disconcerted.

"When you fell unconscious, you had a posterior epistaxis, probably brought on by hypertension," she told him. "It was quite a bad one. It made your eyes bleed."

Kakashi stared at her, visibly shocked. "What…?"

"In bad cases, the blood from your nose gets through your sinuses and weeps out your eyes, you see," Sakura explained, gesturing at her own face. "I was worried you'd utterly wrecked your eye, but fortunately is was just your blood pressure going through the roof. You probably just saw my panties again, that's all."

The poor man looked as if she had hit him over the head with a golf club. 'Panties' were a delicate subject matter with this guy, and when he was trying his hardest to keep some professional distance between them, he was sent reeling every time she threw him something very un­professional

"It was a joke, Kakashi! Jeez, did you leave your sense of humor in bed this morning? I knew I dragged you out the door too fast," she chirped, beaming at him. "You can put your clothes back on now. You're free to go."

She turned away to scribble down meaningless stats on her chart – all of which pointed to 'fine'. Behind her, Kakashi dressed himself, and it was only when she heard the zipper of his vest that she turned around. He regarded her warily when she shot him another smile, though she didn't blame him. For a girl whose heart he'd broken, she was sure acting very nice. He was on to her… but he had yet to figure it out.

Sakura reached behind her to pick up a container from the desk. "This is for being such a good patient," she teased, holding out the jar of lollipops.

"Uh, thanks but no thanks." He turned her down graciously.

Sakura shrugged. "Your loss," she said, selecting one for herself and sticking it in her mouth. "So where you off to now?"

"Off… somewhere," he said, eyes narrowing on her. He seemed especially interested in the way she was sucking on her sweet, a method which involved pushing it back and forwards into her mouth. "I have to… uh… train the little things…"

Sakura pulled the lollipop from her mouth with an audible pop, unable to see what was so interesting about it. "Your students?" Then she suddenly remembered. "Oh! Are you coming to the celebration tonight?"

"What celebration?" He was inching towards the door, backing across the room as if he didn't want to turn his back on a formidable opponent.

"Sasuke passed, remember?" she said, grinning. "We're having another celebration at the bar tonight."

"What was wrong with the first one?"

"I wasn't there, and apparently the curfew interrupted things so they want a second go."


"Are you going to come?" she asked, looking up at him beseechingly as she suckled some more on her candy.

Kakashi looked torn. A visible gulp bobbed beneath his mask. "I'll think about it," he said evasively, in a voice that was a touch higher than usual.

"Kakashi," she said softly, fixing him with a serious look. "Please don't not come because of me. You're Sasuke's teacher… it'll mean a lot to him if you go. I know he doesn't show it, but he really cares what you think of him."

He sighed, looking away. After a moment's thought, he nodded. "Ok… I'll come."

She hadn't lied. Sasuke really did hold Kakashi in a certain esteem no one else alive was honored with. The little fact that this didn't dampen his homicidal feelings towards Kakashi after learning of what had transpired between him and Sakura, was a mere quibble. With enough alcohol, everyone would be friends again and in a couple of days when Sakura had Kakashi exactly where she wanted him, they would all learn to accept. And if they didn't want to accept it, Sakura's fists could be awfully persuasive.

"Good!" she said, smiling. "We'll see you there then."

When Sakura got home, the first thing she did was remove that ghastly uniform and fling it on the floor. She was halfway to her closet when the phone rang.

It was her mother.

"Sakura," she said, before Sakura could even manage a "Hello", "I'm very concerned about the things I've been hearing. Ino's mother told me something very interesting this morning."

Oh no…

This was far too soon! The wedding date hadn't even been set and her mother had already caught wind!

"Yes, mom?" Sakura asked, aiming for an innocent, non-the-wiser kind of tone. Her face was screwed up and she was chewing her lip, but at least her voice wasn't incriminating.

"Is it true?" Her mother asked in a hushed tone. "Are you… are you actually dating Kakashi-sensei?"

Sakura winced. "Just call him Kakashi, mom."

"Oh, heaven's, it's true."


"I can't tell you how relieved I am."


"I was a little concerned when you told me you wanted one of the most masculine jobs available. And you're always hanging around with boys rather than girls and then you started weight-lifting – do you remember? After that Sasuke boy, you never seemed interested in getting a boyfriend, so I was naturally beginning to presume that you were-"

"Mom! For the last time! I'm not gay!"

"I wouldn't mind if you were, sweetie, I was just really hoping for some grandchildren eventually. Now that hope has been restored! I always knew you'd probably go for someone older. You've always gravitated towards maturity, Sakura, even when you were a little girl. You're more like your grandmother than you realize, you know? Your grandfather was twenty years her senior when they married."

Sakura sank onto her bed with a soft sigh. "I know…" She didn't know whether to be relieved about her mother's reaction or exasperated. Seriously, she was only seventeen. Surely it wasn't too much of a worry that she hadn't had any boyfriends yet?

"Sakura, sweetie… we did give you 'the talk', didn't we?"

Exasperated. Definitely exasperated.

The bar was crowded when Sakura arrived. She hadn't meant to be so late, but her mother had managed to wrangle out their conversation for over an hour. Sakura would have hung up, but hanging up on that woman was like swatting a dragon in the face with a spatula; there would be a temporary moment of silence and then hell itself would break loose and Sakura would be subjected to the 'is-that-how-you-show-respect-to-the-woman-who-endured-thirty-hours-of-labour-pain-to-give-you-life' lecture. And, being that she was related to Sakura, it would be venomous.

But even though Sakura was over half an hour late, she still arrived before Kakashi. She looked about for him nonchalantly as she congratulated Sasuke, coaxed him into a hug and bought the next round of drinks. She settled in a booth with team Gai and a cherry flavored alcopop, and despite being perfectly attentive to the conversation, she couldn't stop her eyes roaming the room in search for Kakashi.

He was probably just late but it wouldn't have surprised her if he'd had second thoughts about putting himself in a situation where contact between the two of them was likely. Or maybe he'd remembered that Sasuke and Naruto were longing to strangle him with his own entrails and had thought better of coming? But he needn't have worried. Sakura had warned the two boys quite sharply on her arrival that they were to behave themselves towards Kakashi should he show up. They'd agreed reluctantly, though some of the animosity towards their former teacher was alleviated when they saw that she was in a far better mood than yesterday.

"Hey, Sakura," TenTen said, diverting her attention from the bar's entrance. "So what's this thing about you and Kakashi-sensei?"

"What thing?" she asked, curious to know what it was people thought was going on.

"I heard he was hitting on you," Lee said.

"Nah, you're sleeping with him, aren't you?" TenTen prompted.

"I don't care," Neji sighed, nursing his drink.

TenTen ignored him. "So what's going on?"

"Something did happen," Sakura answered truthfully. "But we decided it's best if we remain friends."

"Ah!" TenTen's face fell. "Why?"

Sakura stared at her. "He doesn't think it's right to be dating a former student."

"So?" TenTen wasn't at all put off.

"Does he not understand the beauty and vitality of love and youth?" Lee asked.

Sakura shrugged. "Apparently not," she said slowly. "But don't you find it weird? I mean, he is quite a bit older…"

"A little…" TenTen admitted. "But he's cute, so why not?"

"Cute?" Sakura threw her a stupefied look. "How do you know? You've not seen his face, have you?"

"No – I meant, he seems sort of sweet," the other girl said quickly, as if momentarily in fear for her life. "Why? Have you seen his face? Ooh – go on! What does he look like?"

Sakura sighed dreamily. "Like… an underwear model."

TenTen echoed her sigh.

"I didn't need to know that," Neji muttered.

"Can I have him, Sakura-chan?" TenTen asked her. "Please? He's right over there – maybe if I buy him a drink or two…?"

Sakura whipped around in her seat and caught sight of the man she'd been looking for all evening. He was standing near the bar, talking to Sasuke who was looking typically sullen but alert, and as was usually the case when she laid eyes on Kakashi, a familiar warmth tightened around her heart. Only the sight of Kakashi triggered this response in her, and she hoped the excitement at simply seeing him would never wear off.

"Excuse me," she said to the rest of her table as she stood up. Kakashi was giving Sasuke a thumbs up and was turning towards the bar, about to order a drink. Sakura arrived at his side just in time to hear him ask the bartender for a, "Shochu and water."

"I didn't think you'd show up," she said happily.

He glanced at her briefly. "I won't be here long. I have reports to fill out."

She nodded, glancing distractedly over her shoulder at where Naruto and Sasuke were giving her very misgiving looks. She stuck her tongue out at them, earning a gasp from Naruto, and turned back to Kakashi. "Want to buy me a drink?"

"Not really," he answered swiftly.

"What kind of friend are you?" she asked, pouting at him. "I already bought my round so I don't have any money left."

Kakashi looked torn. "What do you want?"

"Cherry Breezer."

"Girly drink," he noted.

"Girly girl," she explained.

With a heavy sigh, Kakashi took a seat and rubbed a hand over his masked face. Sakura glanced over him, wondering if it was her presence that had brought this weariness over him. But that wasn't the plan. As much as her plan was to wear him down, it was all about building him up. She had to give him confidence, inspire a trust and make him see that it wouldn't be that bad being with her. If all he felt around her was exasperation and misery, her plan wouldn't work.

At this rate it might take a little longer than three days…

Three years sounded about right though.

When her drink arrived, Sakura sat down beside him and began sucking on the straw thoughtfully. "How did you get that scar?" she asked.

He blinked at her. "What scar?"

"This one," she said, and poked his side, earning a similar squirm to the one she'd witnessed at the hospital. "Looks like a surgical scar."

"It is," he said, putting a protective hand over his tender side. "My kidney was stolen."

"Eh?!" Her mouth fell open and she stared at him in horror. Then she realized he was about to take a sip of his very alcoholic drink and drove forward to stop him. "What are you doing? You only have one kidney and you're still recovering from a nasty injury! You're not drinking-"

"I got it back," he said, as if it was nothing more than a mislaid shoe. "I tracked the bastards down and brought it home in a lunchbox. Everything's where it should be, and all I have is a scar now. Can I have my drink back now, Doctor Haruno?"

She paused for a moment, considering his story, and then relented. Kakashi took a dignified sip through his mask before setting his glass down, probably perfectly aware that Sakura was staring obtusely at him. His only reaction was to start picking at the label on his Shochu bottle.

"You never talk about those kinds of things," she said eventually.

"What things?" he said dully.

"Everyone has stories. Little stupid stories and anecdotes about weird things that have happened to them. I bet you have loads, but you never tell them." She leant back on her stool, balancing it on two legs. "If we're going to be friends, you're going to have to entertain me."

"Are you five?" he asked rhetorically.

"I may have to start crying if you don't," she warned.

"Well, I wouldn't want that," he said seriously. "There are kids around. They'd have nightmares."

"Like you ever cared about giving kids nightmares," she accused. "You used to throw kunai at us in our sleep."

"Training." He shrugged. "Half the time you didn't even wake up."

"Yeah, I remember," she said grimly. "Then you would resort to pouring water into our sleeping bags. You said it was character building at the time."

"It worked didn't it? You have a character."

She snorted. "Unlike some people."

"Are you suggesting I don't have a character?" he asked, visible eyebrow raised.

"Sure, you do," she said, nodding. "It's just a little warped."

A soft laugh escaped him, and although it was brief and a little caustic, it gave her hope. He'd only finished a third of his drink – there was still time to bring him around.

"So… how did you get your other scar?" she asked slowly. "The one on your face?"

Kakashi turned an expectant look on her. "I'm sure you have some theories."

Oh, she had millions! "I used to think you were a distant relative of the Uchiha or something – or like a pale version of a black sheep," she admitted. "But I've seen your medical records so I know that the sharingan is a transplant. So I guess the question is… how did you lose your eye and how exactly did you get an Uchiha to donate their most prized weapon?"

"You're right. That is the question." But he didn't elaborate beyond that.

Sakura chewed her lip. "You know… that time when you said it wasn't wise to run with scissors… that wasn't really-"

"No," he said shortly. "I lost it in a fight during the war. My best friend was an Uchiha. It's his eye."

"Oh…" Sakura didn't need to know more than that. She knew that a donation like that wouldn't have been given by a healthy individual. Giving up one eye so someone could have two didn't make sense. The only time you harvested vital organs from someone was when they were dead or dying.

Which would explain why Sakura had never heard of this Uchiha friend before.

"What was he like?" she asked quietly, biting down on the end of her straw.

She heard rather than saw his sudden smile. "Like a complete dork," he chimed, taking another sip of his drink. "He was always getting into trouble and doing the wrong thing. The whole reason I lost this eye in the first place is because of his ineptitude. But… he paid me back two-fold… and then some."

Sakura smiled. "He doesn't sound like any Uchiha I know."

"Mm," Kakashi hummed. "His moral integrity was above the average for that family, it has to be said."

"What was his name?"

Kakashi waited a long time before answering, as if hesitant to confess it. "Obito." He said as if he had said it often.

"Obito…" She tasted the name on her tongue thoughtfully. "I would have liked to have known him."

Shaking his head, Kakashi gave her an amused look. "You would have strangled him had you known him. Seriously. He was pretty infuriating most of the time."

"I doubt anyone can be worse than Naruto."

"Well, there was this one time during one of our first missions together…"

And in that moment, he opened up to her. Kakashi didn't seem to notice, and neither did Sakura at first – she was too caught up in his story wherein Obito, aged nine, had henge-no-justu'd himself to look like Kakashi in order to hit on their other teammate – a girl named Rin. "She fell for it completely, of course," he explained. "So then I was stuck with a girl fawning all over me and grief off all the people Obito had deliberately pissed off while he was wearing my face – including sensei. But I got my own back when I threw him off the Hokage monument."

Sakura gasped. "I thought he was your best friend!"

"In the Naruto-Sasuke sense."

"Oh… I see. Bitter rivalry with homoerotic undertones?"

"…or… something like that." Kakashi cleared his throat. "We didn't get on particularly well in those days. I did a lot of nasty things to him and he did a lot of nasty stuff in return. But deep down we always cared about one another, even though neither of us bothered to acknowledge that until it was almost too late. But then, that's how it goes, you know?"

She sort of understood. Naruto and Sasuke were capable of terrible cruelty towards each other, but it was only because their bond was so fierce and strong. Personally she didn't get the concept of hurting the people you loved.

It must have been a stupid boy thing.

Sakura looked around to spot Naruto and Sasuke sitting at a table behind them. Both were looking especially drunk, and Naruto seemed to be rattling off words in an attempt to find one that would make Sasuke laugh. So far 'Bumblebee' had produced a slight smirk. Neither seemed interested in keeping an eye on her and Kakashi anymore.

When she turned back to Kakashi, his mask was bunched around his neck and he was taking a larger swig of his drink, evidently confident that with his back turned to the room, no one could see him. As he swallowed, Sakura caught the briefest glimpse of a familiar dimple in his cheek. Unable to stop herself, she grinned.

"What?" he asked, noticing her cat-like smile.

"I've not seen your dimples in ages," she told him. "I was beginning to miss them."

"I have dimples?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at her. It was likely he was just pulling her leg though.

"Yep. Two of them. Hiding beneath your mask with your mole."

"It's a beauty spot."

"I think it could be a wart."

"A mole. It's a mole."

"Did you know you have dimples?"

"I suspected occasionally when I shaved."

"Yep," she said, placing a finger against two points on either of his cheeks. "One here, and one here."

He stared down at her with his unreadable dark eye. "I didn't think they were that noticeable."

"They show the most when you smile. And not a fake smile, either. I mean a real smile, when you're happy."

As she spoke, the corner of his lips quirked up and, true to her words, the dimples dipped beneath her fingertips. Her own smile widened in response. "See?" she said.

His gaze lingered over hers, and gradually the smile left his face. For a moment Sakura wondered if she'd gone too far, when he lifted his hand and gently placed it over hers, pulling it away from his face. But he wasn't trying to distance himself from her. Instead he just held her hand in his larger, warmer one while he searched her face, as if looking for some sign of deception.

The rough pad of his thumb brushed against the back of her knuckles, and then he was leaning towards her. He stopped short with his lips only mere centimeters from hers; so close that she could smell the faint aroma of Shochu on his breath, mingling with the rest of that heavenly masculine smell that was Kakashi. Just the closeness alone made her insides clench with longing as her eyes slid shut. She didn't care who saw or what they thought, because there was nothing more in the world she wanted right at that moment than a kiss off this man. The noises of the bar were growing faraway and distant, as if time itself was slowing down.

The distance was closed and his lips touched against hers. Sakura's eyes flew open and she hastily leant back, at a perfect angle to witness the surprise and confusion that clouded over Kakashi's face. The bar that had seemed momentarily mute returned to full volume, and time picked up its former pace. All she could offer him was a slightly apologetic smile and a helpless shrug. "You can't have it both ways, Kakashi," she told him faintly.

He drew back, glancing around the room self-consciously as he reapplied the mask over his face. It seemed he'd forgotten his staunch vow of platonic friendship for a moment there, and that was all Sakura needed for today.

Downing the rest of her drink, she sighed. "I'm back on the mission roster tomorrow, so I should probably turn in early," she said, making a show of looking at the nonexistent watch on her wrist. "I'll see you tomorrow, ok?"

To rub it in, she bounced forward and planted a loud, friendly peck on his masked cheek before slipping to her feet. "G'night, Kakashi."

She walked towards the exist, passing two extremely inebriated former teammates – one who was attempting to smother sniggers while the other repeatedly cried "Knobbles!". She didn't let her carefree façade drop until she had made it outside into the cool evening air.

In truth… drawing away from that kiss had probably hurt her more than it had hurt Kakashi…

Giving her head the faintest of shakes, she headed home, tired and worried, but confident at the same time. She'd gotten to know more about Kakashi in the last five minutes than she had in the last five years. Granted, he'd simply told her about his former team… but it was more than he usually gave anyone, and for that she knew she was special, at least to him. And Kakashi wasn't nearly as much of a 'wasteland' as he thought.

When she arrived home she put away her shoes and headed straight to the bathroom, eager to step under the spray of her shower and wash away the day's aches. She shrugged her clothes into a disheveled heap outside the door, switched on the water heater and selected a slightly cooler temperature than the one she'd used last night for her bath. The moment Kakashi had left her apartment she'd treated herself to a nice long soak to soothe away the aches and strains that had been building up. But today the pain in her muscles and the soreness between her legs had diminished and she was only in the mood for a quick shower, so as soon as the heater ignited, she hooked the showerhead on the highest peg on the wall and turned it on.

As she stood there frisking the rough sponge over her skin and watching the soapy water slide over the sloping floor into the drains, she privately began to plan the next step. Kakashi instigating a kiss without prompting was unexpected, but not unwelcome, and things were certainly moving in the direction she wanted them to. Had she been right to pull away? He'd clammed up rather quickly, but then that was just Kakashi's way. She wasn't going to allow him to keep her at arm's length and steal a kiss whenever he felt like it. He couldn't lay down the rules and then change them on her, even if she was really lamenting that missed kiss…

Although, perhaps in a few days after a little more gentle coaxing her would –

Sakura stiffened. A cold draft of air washed over her back and legs as the warm air and steam began to dissipate. There was someone standing in the doorway behind her, letting the heat escape. But Sakura didn't panic. She was so acclimatized to his presence that she recognized him solely by the warm thrill that began to burn deep in her belly.

Pressing her arms over her breasts, she awkwardly half-turned towards the door, not entirely sure if she had the confidence to be as nonchalant as she wished. He had never seen her completely naked, and to be honest, Sakura had hoped that when the time came to undress in front of him, the lights would at least be turned off. But here in this bright, cramped bathroom, her whole body was illuminated for his scrutiny. He could probably see the old burn on her hip that she'd gotten from a stray Katon jutsu, as well as the brown birthmark that stained the skin at the bottom of her ribs, not to mention every flaw in her size and shape. Every blemish and imperfection would be marked out for him to notice.

Water was running into her eyes, obscuring her vision, and she haphazardly tried to push her wet hair out of her face as she simultaneously tried to shield her breasts. But he wasn't looking at her body. His gaze was only on her face, silently regarding her as if it wasn't all that strange to walk up to people while they were in the middle of their shower.

"You're letting all the cold in," she said, for lack of anything more profound to say.

He nodded slowly, took one step forward and reached behind him to slide the door shut. That hadn't been quite what Sakura had been asking, but at least the draft had stopped, even though she was left shivering slightly in the chilled aftermath.

With as much dignity as someone could muster when they were cold, wet and naked with an audience, she lifted her chin. "Could you pass me a towel, please?" she asked, nodding to the shelf beside him. And while he was occupied with fetching down a pale pink towel from the pile there, Sakura hastily stretched to turn the water off, as well as the heater with a snap. When she turned back to Kakashi, the towel was in his hand, but he was making no move to give it to her.

He was such an awkward man…

Like a dark blot in her pristine white bathroom, he stood out like a sore thumb, soaking up the light and warmth. He seemed out of place, but perfectly at home at the same time. Sakura knew she would have to turn toward him fully and approach if she ever wanted that towel.

Not wanting to appear self-conscious, she threw her apprehension to the wind and turned swiftly to move forward. She reached out to take the towel, but before her fingers could connect, he snapped it open and drew it around her shoulders so quickly she was tugged against his front before she knew what he'd done. The moisture from her naked front soaked into his clothes but he didn't seem to notice or care. Sakura stiffened in shock, not entirely what to make of this action from a man who had to literally be forced into taking any kind of sexual initiative.

It wasn't that she didn't like it. What wasn't to like about being pressed up against the warm, hard body of a god incarnate? His hands were still firmly grasping the towel, keeping her pinned and unable to escape, but she wouldn't have moved away even if he'd told her to. Pressed this close, all she really wanted to do was lean closer and rub her nose against his clothes and breathe in that wonderful, male smell that she would never in her lifetime grow tired of. It was embarrassing, confusing and exhilarating all at once. She'd never been this completely naked in front of a man before, and feeling all the rough and course edges of his clothes against her soft, damp skin was certainly an arousing experience.

Tentatively she lifted her head to meet his gaze. "I'm pretty sure friends aren't supposed to interrupt other friends when they're in the middle of a shower," she pointed out to him dryly.

He shook his head ever so slightly, scrutinizing her face. "You and I can never be friends." His voice was low and distant, as if he wasn't all there.

Sakura wrinkled her nose at his words. "Yes we can," she said simply.

"No, we can't," he whispered more firmly.

"Yes, we can." It didn't take as much courage as she thought it would, to reach up and gently trace her wet fingertips over his mask and pull it down. Knowing how he felt about her, it was almost as if it was her personal right to be able to stand up on her tiptoes and press a warm, moist kiss to his lips. "We can still be friends," she whispered as she pressed light little kisses around his chin and jaw. "We just have to do things like this more often." She kissed his mole – which really was just a tiny beauty mark, despite her teasing – and then moved to the tip of his nose. "I can still be your friend… because I think that's what you want most. A friend. But I can be that and more, if you'd just let me…"

He sighed, his eye sliding shut as his forehead dropped forward to meet hers. "How do you do that?" he asked, punctuating the soft question with an equally soft kiss against the corner of her mouth. It traveled lower, along her jaw until he was kissing the spot beneath her ear, licking and sucking at her skin as if it was delicious.

Sakura's eyes nearly crossed as a strong quiver of pleasure worked its way up her spine. "How do I do what?" she asked absently, hoping he would just keep kissing her neck like that. The towel was slipping, and in moments it would be on the floor, but Sakura couldn't summon the embarrassment to care anymore.

"How do you open your mouth and say what you mean?" The murmur of his voice in her ear was more intoxicating than ten pints of sake. "When I see you I can never think of anything to say or do… and then you open your mouth and you make it look so easy."

"I babble," she whispered, blushing faintly. "You make me nervous when you don't say anything."

"I like your babbling," he said. "It's cute."

"So's your wart."

"Hey…" His voice held a distinct pout. Sakura giggled and lifted her arms around his neck to press more fully against him, stretching in what amounted to nothing more than sheer feline pleasure. The towel fell away completely to pool on the wet floor, but Sakura only noticed when she felt Kakashi's hands slide of the slick skin of her rear. She was half torn over whether to lean away from the touch in embarrassment, or push herself against his hands to encourage the delicious feelings he evoked. It wasn't like he hadn't touched her before – but the last time she had mostly been clothed and the room had been pretty dark.

"You're so beautiful…" he murmured, kissing the moisture off her shoulder.

Charmed into another blush, Sakura sighed contentedly. "Does this mean you're willing to be more than friends with me?"

"I don't know what else to do about you." He lifted his head and sealed his mouth against hers in a searing kiss that made her toes curl. It was an overwhelming heat – a torrent moving towards her that she wanted nothing more than to throw herself into. She knew where it would lead to if neither of them had the mind to stop things, and at the back of her mind it bothered her. But she would cross that bridge when it came, and for now she allowed herself to be swept along in the lazy passion of this deep kiss.

"This probably isn't a good idea," she heard him mutter against her lips, almost unintelligibly.

"Probably," she agreed, sweeping a hand through his hair to gain purchase and a better angle. She never wanted the kiss to end. It was different from all the others. Better. There was no hesitation or guilt holding him back. No anger. He'd never kissed her before simply to enjoy her; to dominate her, apologise to her, and comfort her, yes, but never to indulge himself.

Although perhaps, by his own admission, their first kiss had been purely at his own indulgence, unbeknownst to her…

"We could end up regretting it," he said, nipping at her lower lip.

"We could," she murmured, letting her head fall back to allow him access to her sensitive throat. To be honest she wasn't really listening to him. All that mattered was that he was there with her, doing such wonderful things to her that she couldn't believe she'd waited this long to discover them.

Then his roaming hands on her backside slipped between her legs, passing close enough to her sex to make her freeze. She hadn't meant to flinch – the contact simply caught her by surprise and the instinctive panic of being touched in such a place surged inside her before she could control it. Suddenly his strong embrace was trapping her and she didn't feel in control anymore. She struggled, attempting to push him away…

He released her instantly, knowing something was wrong. "What is it?" But she could tell from the look on his face that he already suspected.

Guilt and anger gnawed her at her insides. The moment he had let her go, she bitterly lamented her own reaction. It wasn't Kakashi's fault that she hated being touched there… it just reminded her too much of the way Matsura had held her pinned and she'd been unable to move away and it had hurt

"I'm sorry," she said quickly, knowing she'd broken the mood. "It's not you, it's just-"

"It doesn't matter," he said gruffly. For a moment she thought she'd ruined everything, that he would suddenly realize what a huge mistake he was making and turn to leave.

But instead he took her gently by the arms and guided her back to him, before slowly lowering his mouth over hers again. The kiss was slower this time, more patient and tender. "I won't hurt you," he said, his fingers curling through her wet locks. "Not ever. I promise."

She almost felt like rolling her eyes. Well, she knew that obviously! Kakashi would never intentionally hurt anyone – be they a lover or a random passing butterfly. Although three hundred and fifty-four of the man's deceased assassination targets might beg to differ about that…

"Besides," he amended, "I'll make you learn to like everything I do to you."

His lips had dipped to her collar, so he probably missed the hot flush that spread over her cheeks. It honestly sounded like he intended to make this a regular thing…

Sakura's train of thought promptly derailed as his mouth fastened over a nipple. The sharp pleasure surged all the way to the pit of her stomach, making her grimace and moan as her knees instantly went weak and began to buckle. It was almost is if he knew the way the pleasure moved through her, as he sank to his knees before her and let his lips travel down over her ribs to her stomach. Sakura just couldn't believe how he managed to arouse her no matter what he kissed. Her stomach had to be the least sensitive spot on her body, but when his tongue dipped into her bellybutton her hands flew to grip his hair as another sharp pang of arousal blew through her – lancing straight between her legs.

And his lips traveled lower still, so low that he brushed the thatch of pink curls that-


Far too late she realized what he was about to do. Color rose hot in her face and she immediately tried to both push his head away and step back. But it seemed he'd anticipated this move because his hand caught the back of her knees and tripped her. Sakura landed on the cold wet floor ass-first with her hands out to steady herself, yet her eyes remained locked on Kakashi, almost fearful about the uncompromising glint in his dark eye.

He caught her hips and slid her towards him. She tried to scramble away, but the slippery floor only worked against her. She tried to close her legs, but Kakashi parted them easily enough and held them apart to allow himself between them.

"Wait!" she begged, hugely uncomfortable with being so exposed to his gaze. "This is weird!"

"You won't be saying that in a minute." And without further ado, he bent his head and sealed his mouth against her.

Sakura's heart nearly stopped from the shock. The sudden lash of pleasure was almost unbearable, and her body snapped rigid with tension, as if it couldn't decide whether to push closer or pull away. Helpless little sounds escaped her mouth and her hands tugged at his hair so hard it was a wonder he didn't complain. It was too much. His tongue swirled and stroked and stabbed without mercy, making her legs quiver and tremble. She was aware of the dry sobs that broke from her throat, as well as her futile pleas for him to stop the torture. Her hips shifted restlessly, but he didn't hold them down. Instead he slid his hands beneath them to lift her up for better access.

"I'll kill you for this," she choked out brokenly as the razor-sharp pleasure cut her to pieces. She could no longer see. She could barely hear over the pounding of her own heart. The one hand that wasn't shifting restlessly through his rumpled gray locks was slapping around in the puddles around her, probably looking for something with which to beat him over the head.

It was when she felt him push one large, hard finger into her that she went completely to pieces. Her inner muscles convulsed around the invading digit and the coil of pleasure that had been tightening under his onslaught abruptly snapped.

He held her surging body down with his arm as her own uncontrolled cries and gasps filled the small bathroom. His mouth remained against her, riding the tidal waves of sensation and prolonging them, until they gradually calmed into gently swirling eddies. Still, the occasional throb of pleasure made her whole body spasm in the aftermath.

Sakura could barely move. Kakashi sat up, his hair almost comically askew with his hitai-ate now protecting his ear. He had the cheek to lick his lips and dab them with the back of his hand, as if he'd just enjoyed his favorite dish.

"What was that about killing me?" he asked.

Maybe later… when she could walk again…

"Why did you do that?" she panted, her heart still hammering a fast rhythm beneath her ribs.

His dark eye surveyed her. "You liked it didn't you?"

She blushed. "Well, yes… but…"

"You should see how beautiful you look right now."

"Oh, jeez…" She bit her lip to stifle a self-conscious laugh.

She'd known vaguely about this kind of sexual act, but she'd decided a long time ago that it wasn't for her. When she could barely stand the embarrassment of him looking at her down there, it seemed incomprehensible to allow any man to put his mouth there.

But now in the aftermath of one of the most ferocious orgasms of her life, she couldn't gather the energy to worry over her modesty. Her shyness was replaced with a sense of comfortable familiarity. Her legs were still open to him, and his hands were still running possessively over her thighs which were beginning to dry. There was a sense of utter complacency that she could easily get used to.

"I did it because I wanted you as wet as possible," he explained finally.

"But why?" she asked, a little naively. But it was hard for her to imagine how you could possibly be any wetter when you'd just stepped out of the shower.

He held out a hand for her to take and pulled her upright into a sitting position. Rather than release her though, he guided her hand towards his lap and placed it directly against the hard bulge in his pants. Sakura's lethargy seemed to evaporate instantly as curiosity overtook. She watched Kakashi's face for a reaction as her fingers curled instinctively around the hot object in her hand, taking in its size and shape and the way Kakashi's breath caught when she squeezed.

To think he'd already been inside her once… she wasn't entirely sure how he'd managed to fit. It seem anatomically impossible. And even though common sense told her that it would only hurt if they tried again, her treacherous body seemed to have already forgotten the pain and the pit of her belly twisted in eager anticipation.

She had to be insane…

Immediately her fingers went to unbutton his pants in order to feel more of him, but Kakashi's hand closed over her wrist. "Not in here," he said shortly.

She stared up at him, some long dormant sex drive devolving her into a mono-syllabic cavewoman. "Bed," she said. "Bed now."

He nodded and helped her up. Although she was slightly wobbly on her feet, nothing would stop her from making it back into the bedroom. The bed wasn't big – it was only a single, and the duvet was still rumpled from when she'd slept in it last night. Kakashi pulled her up short of the footboard and into a kiss. She responded with equal fervor as she began tugging at the zipper of his flak jacket. If they were going to do this he was going to have to be completely naked. It was only fair.

It took far too long, in Sakura's opinion, to rid him of his jacket, gloves, shirt and vest. And then there were his sandals and pants to contend with. Sakura didn't quite have the courage to remove his underwear, so he did that bit, and for a long moment Sakura could only stand and stare.

Definitely very large.

But then, she'd only ever seen one other man in a state of arousal, and frankly a hamster would look well-endowed compared to Matsura. Especially after she was through with him.

Still, some of the nervousness must have translated onto her face, because he touched her shoulder compassionately. "We don't have to."

But he really wanted to, judging by his rather obvious state of arousal. And she couldn't deny she wasn't in the same boat. And if not now then when? If it was ever going to work between them, they had to sort this mess out.

Timidly, she reached out to touch him. She'd never seen or felt this much of him before, and she was compelled to discover him properly. She was surprised at how soft he felt to the touch, and yet unbelievably hard at the same time. He was thick too, and she only just managed to fit her fingers around him. As she squeezed experimentally again, Kakashi groaned and reached for her shoulder. He seemed so sensitive to even the lightest touch on his length. Sakura couldn't help but wonder what kind of sounds he would make if she were to lick it…

"Can I taste you?" she asked, looking up at him politely.

Kakashi sucked in a sharp breath. "Um…" he hedged. "Maybe next time. And this won't last long if you keep asking things like that."

"Like what?" She pouted, finding it deeply unfair that he was allowed to taste her, but she wasn't allowed to return the favor.

"Like you're Konoha's number one most repressed nymphomaniac."

"Oh…" She didn't know quite what to say to that, so instead she just reached up to pull him down into another kiss. Her confidence was growing. Every time she touched him it seemed to become more natural. When his arms wrapped around her to drag her closer, she could only sigh in pleasure, even though the scalding hardness grinding against her stomach was somewhat alarming. Once again she felt the thrill of panic at the thought of him penetrating her, but it was overridden by the warm pleasure of his kiss and the knowledge that this was the man who loved her. The only man who had ever loved her.

He lifted her up, making her squeak and instinctively wrap her legs around his waist. Their kiss didn't even break as he took her down onto the bed and pressed her into the mattress, their legs tangling in the heaped duvet at their feet. Sakura closed her eyes and let the euphoric sensations wash over her. With just a small shift of his hips, his length ground against her core, eliciting a soft gasp that made her arch. Above her, she felt Kakashi hesitate and slid open her eyes to regard him cautiously.

"Are you sure about this?" she asked, concerned for him. "If you're not ready, I understand. We don't have to do anything you're not comfortable-"

"You're taking the mickey, aren't you?"

"Well, yes…"

He grinned at her and she returned it with a shy smile. Then ever so suddenly he'd rolled them both over so that she was the one on top. Her face wiped clean of all expression as she pondered this new position and his intention behind it. "This way?" she whispered.

"I can't be bothered doing all the work," he said, shrugging.

"You're so lazy, Kakashi," she teased, even though could take a good guess about why he wanted it this way.

On top, she could control their pace and speed. The loss of control that scared her so much might not be so bad if she was the one calling the shots.

Or, he really was just the laziest bastard in Konoha. There was certainly a lot of other evidence to support this conclusion.

Nevertheless, his consideration charmed her, and she graced him with a soft kiss on the lips. "I love you," she told him.

"Mm." His eyes slid shut and he was unable to formulate a response, what with her hips beginning to grind at his.

"Do you love me?" she asked coyly.

Kakashi splayed his hands over her thighs and arched his pelvis up towards her. "You know I do," he muttered thickly.

"And this is what you want?" she pressed on, her own breathing getting a little heavier as the exquisite friction between her legs increased.

A little groan broke from Kakashi's throat. "Very much so, yes."

"And everything that comes with it?" She loved witnessing the fever that she could bring out in him with only her body. She loved the way his chest moved rapidly and his large hands squeezed her hips while he was subject to her every whim. But as much as she wanted to take him inside her and see the same complete abandon she'd seen in that dark little hotel room… she had to know that he understood what this meant. If he turned around later and referred to this wonderful moment as another lapse in reason, it would break her heart. Again.

When he didn't answer her question, she stopped her movements and waited for him to meet her gaze. "What is it you want from me, Kakashi?" she asked. "What did you come here for?"

"How is it you can keep talking in a situation like this?" he wondered, clearly bewildered. "I can barely string a thought together."

"Kakashi!" she snapped sharply. "What do you want from me! Because if you're only here to get your rocks off, you can shove off back where you came from-"

"You're adorable when you're angry," he interrupted. "But before you start hitting me, I should tell you I only came here for one thing."

Sakura's jaw tensed, and she wondered if now was a good time to perpetuate her title as Deballer of Men. "And what would that be?" she asked tersely.

He gave the mildest shake of the head. "Everything."

She stared at him for a beat. "That's more than one thing," she pointed out, confused.

"Yes, but I was trying to sound profound," he sighed.

"What do you mean 'everything'?" she murmured, frowning at him.

He looked torn for a moment. "Do we have to discuss this now, only I think my balls are going to turn blue in a minute-"

"I don't care. Explain now."

He nearly laughed. "I can't explain it. I don't understand it. Only, every time you sit down next to me, I feel happier. And the happier I feel, the guiltier I get too. And I don't want to feel guilty anymore. And it's probably a very bad idea to do this, and you may come to your sesnse and fall in love with someone else tomorrow, or wind up hating me for stealing this part of your life that is usually dedicated to alcohol and boys, but I don't know what else to do because sitting alone when I know I could be here with you is agony."

"Oh," she murmured, her heart throbbing as you leant forward to cradle his face and kiss his nose, the way she might do to an injured puppy. "Do you trust me then?"

"You terrify me," he said quietly. "But yes. I think I do."

A soft smile played on her lips as she straightened up and deliberately rolled her hips against his once more, enjoying the radiating pleasure from their point of contact almost as much as the way he gasped. "Good. Then we're equal."

He caught her hips, urging her to keep moving them in that slow, grinding pattern. "Not everyone will accept us," he pointed out.

Damn that voice of reason. "It's none of their business."

"Naruto and Sasuke might actually kill me."

"I'll make sure they put something nice on your gravestone."

"And you'll probably get sick of me eventually. They all do."

"If you don't get sick of me first."

Kakashi's back arched and his eyes squeezed shut. "Sakura…" He'd never actually beg, but he was coming damn close to it. The erection pressing insistently between her legs was hard to ignore, and if she didn't do something about it soon she would probably find herself forfeiting her top position to a desperate Copy Ninja.

Still… she was nervous.

Without a word she lifted herself up and took his length in hand to guide the thick, blunt tip to her entrance. It certainly felt good now, and her blood may have been pumping as hard as his, but she knew perfectly well that in a moment it would probably all change. Her body just didn't agree… but in a way, that was probably a good thing. She would never have had the courage to sink down against him if her body hadn't been caught up in the misguided promise of pleasure.

She took it slow, but it still stung – although not as much as she remembered. Perhaps because she had already endured it once, she knew what to expect and so the fear that had contributed so much to her distress the first time around was absent. Sakura was in control now. The sting of stretched flesh seemed bearable, even though some of the soreness from their original encounter still lingered.

Inch by inch she took him, chewing on her lip the whole time, until eventually she was fully seated against him, having taken him as far as she could. Pained muscles fluttered around his intruding length, and she had the satisfaction of watching his mouth drop open in a soft moan as he clawed his fingers against her twisted sheets in an attempt to control himself.

"Give me a minute," she said, wincing in discomfort.

"Take two," he offered, looking only too eager for the opportunity to rally his stamina.

Sakura forced herself to relax, taking deep, controlled breaths. Pleasure and pain warred within her, fighting for dominance. It didn't seem fair that she had to suffer this, after reading so many of her mother's romances which usually portrayed sex as mind-blowing pleasure from start to finish. No one had ever told her that pain went beyond that very first penetration. No one had ever said she would spend more time attempting to adjust to his size than enjoying the actual act.

"One day," she murmured, feeling the pain recede enough to roll her hips a little. "One day we'll be able to do this perfectly. We'll be so in tune with one another that you'll be able to take me anywhere any time you like."

"I told you," he said roughly, "this won't last long if you keep saying things like that."

"No, it'll last," she said, though she wasn't referring to their current situation. "I'm sure it will."

Experimentally, she lifted herself up a fraction in order to sink back down, pleased that there was relatively no pain in the action. She tried it again with growing confidence, and nearly hummed in the deep pleasure the slow motion gave her. Looking down at Kakashi, she sought his approval. "Am I doing it right?"

"I don't think there's a wrong way to do it," he said, grimacing in pleasure. "Do what you want, just don't stop."

But his hands moved onto her hips to help guide her, urging her to rock forward and back every time she came down against him. She kept it slow, and he didn't hurry her. She moved gingerly at first, wary of the discomfort that danced around the edges of pleasure, but gradually as she relaxed, she was able to move more confidently. While her fingers flutter over his torso and stomach, delighting in the faint dusting of coarse hairs, she was aware that more than just her own will was driving her movement. It was becoming natural to move this way, to feel him moving inside he, pushing her towards something. Her gaze locked with his, watching each other as she rocked over him, communicating nothing and everything. All that could be heard in her small, cramped apartment was the sound of their breathing, harsh, and growing more erratic with each passing minute.

A little faster…

Sakura began to pant, excitement and pleasure beginning to build in her, the pain all but forgotten.

Faster, until she could no longer focus her eyes on his, and her fingers were beginning to slip on the sheen of sweat covering his skin. Kakashi bit back a moan, a look of deep concentration on his face. Waves of pleasure lapped at her, seeming to soar a little higher each time she came down against him. Every breath brought the passion closer.

"Kakashi," she panted, almost fretfully, "this feels really good."

"Mm." He couldn't communicate much else.

"No – I mean – really good." Her eyes slid shut and she helplessly sought his hand, desperate for something to hold onto. "I think… I think I'm going to…"

She couldn't quite say it, because however it sounded in her head, it still sounded trite. But her orgasm was only seconds away and it still wasn't quite enough. He was holding back, being polite and restrained for her benefit. But there was no room for it now. It just wasn't enough.

"Kakashi – I can't-"

He reared upright before she could finish her plea, and dragged her abruptly against him to meet her mouth in a near frenzied kiss. She hooked her hands over his shoulders as his hips began bucking up hard to meet hers, thrusting so deep her mouth fell open in a silent cry and she could barely breathe.

He was coming, she realized, when she heard his deep groan in her ear and the way his hips began to spasm and jerk. The feel of his erratic thrusts and the wetness of his release was enough to drive her over the edge. She bit his shoulder with a strangled moan, body convulsing around his and milking his length with undulating hips.

Even when it passed, they didn't move. They simply clung to each other, gasping in the aftermath of little twitches and throbs, as if it was still far too soon to return to their separate selves. And when they kissed it was slow and lazy, full of sated passion and raw familiarity. She hummed contentedly, eyes closed as he kissed her cheek and forehead.

This was something she could definitely get used to.

"I thought ladies were supposed to always come first?" she murmured.

"Oh, you're a lady now?" he teased softly. "And it's your fault, anyway."

"My fault?" she echoed incredulously, shifting in his lap just enough to make his eyebrow twitch. "How is that my fault?"

"I told you if you kept talking like that…" he sighed. "Moving like that, breathing like that…"

Sakura smiled contentedly and laid her head against his shoulder once more, pressing tired kisses against his skin. It was then that she became aware of the noise that she'd been deaf to until that moment. It sounded like static. Turning her head she looked to the dark window and realized it was drenched with water. It looked as if the summer heat wave had finally broken.

"It's raining," she murmured.

"The sky does that sometimes," he replied dryly, as he began to yawn.

They finally parted and settled down on the bed, Kakashi behind her, spooning her as they drew the rumpled blankets over themselves. In this position, her bottom was nestled quite snuggly against his hips. She felt his length twitch warning against her once, then subside. He seemed more content to simply draw his finger lazily along her upper arm.

"I don't do hand holding," he warned her. "I don't kiss in public, and I object to being given labels like 'boyfriend'."

Sakura contemplated his words seriously.

"You won't get any shortcuts in your career. If you want to be an elite jonin, you'll have to work as hard as anyone else. If you want into the ANBU, I won't recommend you."

"I wouldn't want you to anyway," she said shortly. "What kind of self-respecting kunoichi gets where she's going simply by mooching favors?"

"And I don't do flings or short-term relationships," he went on. "If this is going to be anything, it's going to be long-term. This is for good."

"For good…?" she echoed, nearly rendered speechless in surprise. "You mean, like… settling down?"

"Not necessarily," he said, and she felt him shrug behind her. "I just mean that I'm in it for the long-haul. Nothing less."

Sakura digested this slowly.

"So?" Kakashi prompted. "Are you still willing?"

"If you get to lay down ground rules, so do I," she retorted. "First of all, you have to take me out to dinner at least once a week – even if it's just to Ichiraku. And you have to pay occasionally. It's unsightly fobbing off the bill on your penniless lover."

Kakashi grunted incredulously.

"And my favorite flowers are white lilies, just in case you ever do anything to piss me off and you need to apologize. Don't ever get me chocolates."

"…I hadn't even considered it."

"And if Naruto and Sasuke ever give you a hard time, just come and tell me and I'll sort them out." She turned her head to look at him. "Do you agree to those conditions?"

"If you agree to mine," he nodded. "Shake on it?"

Sakura bit her lip. "I'd rather you kissed me on it," she whispered.

He obliged with a soft smile and pressed his lips against hers in a long, indolent kiss. This was all she wanted, she realized. Something simple and natural and easy. To be able to talk with him as lightly and casually as before but still be able to sink into the temptation of stealing a kiss or two without fear of reprisal or rejection. This was what it felt like to love a man who loved her in return. And although he could be an awkward bastard sometimes, so could she. And if he could put up with her eccentricities, then she could at least learn to tolerate his.

She didn't look forward to the reactions of some of the more conservative individuals in Konoha. Working around the Hokage meant she was walking on eggshells around the likes of the elders and people like Denzou on a daily basis. None of them were particularly fond of Sakura as it was, and if they learnt about this relationship, she could just imagine the new brand of thinly veiled contempt they would sneer her way.

But it wouldn't matter, because as Kakashi had said, this was for good. There was plenty of time to disprove people's doubts. And really, what business was it of theirs who fell in love with whom? Sure it wouldn't be seen as particularly honorable business to take up with her former teacher and commander. But her duty was to the people she loved, and shinobi rule #1 was quite explicit about what came first when it came to duty and honor.

"You won't wind up regretting this, will you?" she asked quietly, as their kiss broke.

He shook his head slowly. "I've made my decision."

"Good," she nodded with a firm nod and a faint smile before turning back to face the window. "Because I would have to beat you to death with your own leg if you ran away now."

She heard him chuckle behind her and welcomed the arm that drew around her waist to pull her against the warm wall of his chest.

In the warmth of his arms, listening to the strong beat of his heart and the slow breathing dusting against her damp hair, Sakura found herself being lulled to sleep. She wanted to fall asleep this way every night, safely wrapped in a loving, possessive embrace.

She was almost gone when she felt Kakashi sigh against her neck before musing sleepily, "You'd make a really bossy wife."


Because the end is never truly the end...