Kakashi had never expected to meet her there.
It was surprising, where so little surprised him - and unpleasant in a way that cooled icily just under his skin. He had, of course, wished that he may never have to meet any of his students at the Shinobi Memorial in shared grief. It had never been something he was very good at - and even now words failed him, when he would have given almost anything to find them.
Sakura's fingers pressed tentatively against the dark stone, her eyes shut, as if by feeling the names rather than reading them would grant her any deeper understanding of their many lives or deaths. But perhaps it did, for when she looked up at him, her eyes held a certain sympathy that forced his eyes away.
She didn't belong here.
Not yet. If ever.
"Which one?" she asked softly, "Which one is yours?"
He could have laughed. He stepped closer, tilting his head to the side. "There are a lot more than one, Sakura."
The girl shook her head, turning back to the stone to run her fingers over the surface once more. "Which one was worst? Which one still keeps you awake at night? I..." Sakura trailed off, sitting back from the stone. She did not look back to him. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Kakashi shrugged, and vaguely wondered if he should approach her even another step. He considered leaving. He wasn't very good at advice or at comfort, and he had already broken the one promise he'd ever made to Sakura. He had no desire to make any new ones.
He had promised that everything would be all right, that everything would go back to normal, and now Haruno Sakura kneeled in front of black marble, searching for the engraved names of her best friends as if they might form under her fingers.
Kakashi walked forward silently, stepping past her and coming to a stop at the side of the grim memorial. Ice formed sharply in his chest as he reached forward, pressing his fingers against the stone in a pale mimicry of what he'd witnessed. "This one," was all he could manage to say.
When he was her age, he had wished the edges of Obito's name had been sharp enough to cut him. He had never dared touch the stone for that reason, and now he saw the engraving was dull and shallow.
It hurt regardless.
Kakashi pulled his hand away, turning to look at her. "You shouldn't be here. There's nothing to gain from this."
"Then why are you here?" Sakura whispered, gathering her knees to her chest.
Kakashi was silent for a long time, staring down at her. This was Sakura, and yet he barely recognized her. A certain dark determination and uncertainty lingered behind her eyes.
"Because I have nothing to lose," he replied gently. "Not anymore."
"What about us?"
His smile surprised him. She didn't see it, but that was unimportant. There were a great many things she had learned to read from his voice alone. The world seemed dim and silent around them as he spoke, and she was suddenly very terrified that he might leave as well. She was aware that one day it would be his name she traced on that black stone, only this time it would be more than a ghost of the letters.
"I have faith, Sakura," he said simply. "I have more faith in them, and in you, than I have in myself."
Sakura's gaze dropped, and slowly she hid her face behind her knees. A knot grew so tightly in her chest that for a moment, she couldn't breathe. She couldn't see. "What was he like?" Her words cracked painfully in her throat.
Kakashi sighed deeply, turning away from her. Granting her at least the illusion that he didn't know she was crying. Thin sobs crept from her and she curled even tighter into herself, arms locked hard around her knees.
"He was a boy," he shrugged, his voice so tight in his own throat he thought he could suffocate. "Hot-headed and easily flustered and he tripped over his own feet. I hated him. He was my best friend." He laughed, turning to her in time to see her look up. Her face was tear-streaked and red, but her eyes were open wide. "Sounds familiar, doesn't it?"
She hid her face behind her hands. Her voice was twisted tight in breathlessness and trembling with her tears, he could barely hear a word she said. Somehow he understood her perfectly anyway.
"I want them back," she whispered. "I never want to come here and see their names on that rock until I'm very, very old, Kakashi-sensei. I want them back."
"Then bring them home," he replied simply. His fingers trailed over Obito's name once more, and for a moment he felt the sudden weight of the boy's death upon him so greatly he could have buckled. Everything he could have done. Everything he never had. Never could. "You still can."
He was very tired of promises he couldn't keep. Of his own strengths that failed him. Of failing those who relied on that strength. He had failed Obito, he had failed Rin. Their names were a dull ache under his fingertips.
He thought of Naruto, of Sasuke...lastly, but most viscerally, of Sakura. He never wanted to feel the edges of their names under his fingertips.
Kakashi wondered just how deeply those names might cut into him, if he ever did.
There was no doubt in his mind that they would.