Okay, this is it. This is the last chapter. Take it or leave it, love it or hate it, this is the last one. Don't shoot me! This story could go on forever, and I think that now is as good a time as any to end it. But don't worry! A sequel is very likely! Although… it will probably take awhile.
How I view this chapter: After you cry, you feel better, refreshed. How can one hate a world wherein the sun is shining oh so brightly?
In other words, this chapter is more upbeat, which I find much harder to write than angst. I think it moves rather slowly. Ah well. In most cases, with me, it's either too fast or too slow… ::sighs:: Pacing will be the death of me. But seriously, this chapter is way too happy for me, so it may really suck…
This puppy's dedicated to all of you who answered my plea for advice, particularly Sonikka and CeriseAnouk (or would you prefer Ceri?). You have all been AMAZING and SUPPORTIVE and just the best reviewers a writer could ever ask for! Thank you for your input, your encouragement, your constructive criticism... I love you guys!
Kakashi was numb.
He couldn't remember the last time he had cried so hard, so… sincerely. He could hardly even remember who he was at this point— but then, at the same time, the reality of his existence was throbbing painfully at the forefront of his mine, his inescapable humanity suffocating him… And then, again at the same time, he felt human in a different way, a… better way. The fact that he could cry, the fact that he could open up to another person, that he could realize what was wrong with him, that he could show emotion— the sheer humanity of it all washed over him in a wave of relief, making it feel as if some immense burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
At one time, he would have felt humiliated that someone had seen him in such a state; at one time, he would have cared that he his emotions had just spun out of control and he had come so close to hurting someone he cared for deeply. Now… It wasn't that he didn't care; it was just that he didn't care in the same way. Instead of feeling angry with himself for having another one of his breakdowns, instead of feeling ashamed, he again felt relieved. Just… relieved.
He had slipped into unconsciousness from sheer exhaustion somewhere along the line. Naturally, he had dreamed of Rin. He had dreamed of Rin, and Obito, and his sensei, and his mother, and his father. All of them had been crying. Rin had been smiling through her tears; Obito had been grinning broadly, wiping his nose with his sleeve; Sensei's eyes had been glistening, only a tear or two running down his cheek as he smiled softly; his mother had given him a wobbly smile, her eyes shining; and his father— his father had been outright sobbing, his face in his hands as he wept, and wept, and wept, and wept. Kakashi had been confused at first; why were they all crying? Hadn't he done enough crying for the lot of them?
It came to him in one beautiful, revealing moment.
They were crying because they were happy.
They were happy because he was being saved.
Sakura was numb.
It was the first time in her life she had ever dealt with a breakdown of this magnitude. While reading some of the silly romance novels she occasionally picked up, she had faintly entertained the idea of having to comfort someone while they were letting all of their emotions run wild, but she had never expected that someone to be Kakashi— her sensei, her father.
When she had first met him, he had been the epitome of what a shinobi should be: a man who could kill without hesitation and operate high-class missions successfully and efficiently, showing as little emotion as possible. Little by little, she and her teammates had started to notice his more… human qualities, so to speak: his quirky (and sometimes distasteful) sense of humor, his apparent cluelessness in some aspects of life, even the way he spoke— slowly, in Sakura's eyes, he evolved from a strict and calculating instructor into a thoughtful and caring teacher. When he had been revealed as her father, however, his humanity had come hurling at her fast with little warning. He bled the same color, saw the same sun, loved just as deeply, and cried just as bitterly as the next man, and the sheer fact of those things caught her off her guard.
Honestly, she wasn't quite sure just how to deal with the situation. Her mind blank, she had wrapped her arms around him as he let everything come pouring out, never saying anything, never shifting her position. It was only when she realized that he had cried himself to sleep that she moved, resting his head carefully on a hand towel and quietly returning to her room.
Once she had gotten there, she had collapsed onto her bed, staring at the blank white ceiling. As she lay in bed contemplating what had happened, the sound of Kakashi's sobbing was still echoing in her head, coupled with crying she couldn't quite identify.
It wasn't until she felt the tears on her face that she realized it was her own.
"Kakashi-sensei, wake up."
A gentle voice and a warm hand lightly shaking his shoulder caused Kakashi to groggily blink his eyes open. He sat up, groaning; his muscles were sore from having to rest on the uncomfortable bathroom floor all night. He yawned (something he wasn't prone to doing) and turned to see Sakura crouching beside him. Her eyes were wide and outlined by a circle of red and puffy skin, the shadows dancing around her face causing her to appear much older than she actually was. She was smiling warmly at him, and he couldn't help but smile back.
"Good morning, Kakashi-sensei," Sakura said; she sounded as if her throat were still recovering from the night before. Again, Kakashi smiled involuntarily before rising to his feet. Sakura followed suit, so that they were back to their usual levels.
"Good morning," he said quietly; the skin of his face that had been stained by the heavy flow of tears felt as if it were cracking as he did so. At that moment, Pakkun sneezed loudly, causing Sakura and Kakashi to look down to where he was pawing at his nose, somewhere in the region of Kakashi's feet.
"Enough with the pleasantries," he said thickly. "Where's my food?"
Kakashi sighed, although he did it with another smile playing at the corners of his lips. "Come on," he said to the squat little dog. "I'll get you your precious food." He led Pakkun out of the bathroom, feeding the eager dog his "breakfast".
After he had filled Pakkun's chipped bowl with a sufficient amount of food, he sat down at the kitchen table, massaging his forehead. He had a monstrous headache that seemed to occupy his entire head, leaving no space for him to think. He closed his eyes, yawning again.
He soon heard the sound of chair legs scraping against the floor and someone sitting down next to him. He could feel the warmth generated from Sakura's body in his vicinity; however, he kept his eyes closed, rubbing them softly with his callused fingers.
"Kakashi-sensei," Sakura began tentatively, "I've asked Tsunade to give you the day off."
Kakashi opened his eyes, turning to look at her. His entire face was visible, and therefore his surprise was evident. He parted his lips as if to ask "Why?" but answered his own question almost immediately. Instead, he said, "And she…?"
"She gave our team the whole day off," Sakura said. A grin spread across her face as she said, more enthusiastically, "You know what that means, Kakashi-sensei?"
"… Does it mean that I get to sleep somewhere other than on the bathroom floor?"
Sakura laughed, sticking out her tongue playfully and saying, "Nah, it means we get to spend the whole day together, just you and me!"
Kakashi blinked once, giving her a bewildered look. He couldn't quite explain it, but something about that statement made him so happy he wanted to laugh out loud. The image of Rin from his dream the night before swam in the back of his mind's eye, but he pushed it aside as he rose to his feet. "I'd better get myself cleaned up, then," he said.
Sakura nodded, jumping energetically to her feet and hurrying back to her own room. "I'll be waiting!"
Summer was coming quickly to Konoha. The sun was gleaming magnificently, shedding its warmth on the village. White, fluffy clouds dotted the clear blue sky, drifting lazily along with the help of a refreshing breeze. Kakashi and Sakura were walking down a nearly deserted street together, neither of them speaking. Sakura had coerced Kakashi into taking off his thick green vest; it was much too nice of a day for such a strict adherence to the dress code, she argued. She even managed to get him to wear short sleeves as opposed to long sleeves. Even though the shirt had the raised uzumaki stamped onto the back of it, she thought that, overall, it was a significant improvement.
Kakashi took a deep (albeit silent) breath, taking in the familiar smells and sounds of the village. The fact that he couldn't remember the last time he had taken the day off slightly disturbed him, but he tried not to dwell on it. Instead, he focused on the clear, sharp scents of the dewy grass, the budding flowers… All of the things he had forgotten he loved about the outdoors.
Sakura watched him tentatively, waiting impatiently for him to attempt to break the silence on his own. Of course, knowing Kakashi, that wasn't going to happen anytime soon, so Sakura took the initiative.
"Sooo, Kakashi-sensei… what do you want to do today?" She cocked her head to the side, looking up at him to see if he gave any reaction. He didn't look at her directly; he tilted his head towards the sky, watching the clouds as he considered his answer. Eventually, he shrugged, turning to her and saying, "I haven't been out in awhile, would you mind just walking for a little bit?"
Sakura shook her head; she didn't mind what they did, as long as Kakashi got some fresh air to clear his head. "That's fine with me," she said, smiling. Kakashi smiled back, and the two continued to walk.
The small dirt road they were walking down quickly dwindled into a path, eventually coming to and end at a stretch of uneven grass. Sakura had never been down this way before, but Kakashi seemed to know where he was going; he continued walking, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that there was no longer a beaten path to follow. Sakura followed him, now a bit curious.
"Where are we going?" she asked. The wild wet grass tickled her toes, causing her to smile softly.
There was silence for a moment or two (although with all of the external noises, it could hardly be called that). Sakura's stomach churned unpleasantly; was today going to be just as painful a day for him as yesterday? That would defeat the whole point of getting him the day off, Inner Sakura thought grumpily.
"Somewhere nice," Kakashi said lightly, interrupting her thoughts. He turned his face towards her, his eye curved up in a smile.
Sakura blinked once, surprised, before smiling again, relieved. "Somewhere nice," she repeated, her tone playfully skeptical.
"Yes," Kakashi said simply. "Somewhere nice."
There was more silence for only a second or two before Sakura started laughing. Her laugh was clear and happy, tugging at the corners of Kakashi's mouth for what was neither the first nor the last time.
Trees slowly started to occupy the area they were walking in, gradually increasing in number until they formed what could be considered a forest. Neither of the two was quite sure how long they had been walking beside each other in silence, both soaking in the atmosphere. Kakashi seemed to be very absorbed in his thoughts, so Sakura decided to take advantage of that and observe him. Every time he walked underneath a patch of light, the sunlight made his silver hair sparkle and reflected beautifully off of his hitai-ate (which he had firmly refused to remove, no matter how much she pleaded). She noticed something different about the way he was walking; as of late, his posture had been stiffer and rigid, as if he were under the constant watch of a military captain, but today he was back to what Sakura dared to say was his original self, slouching and taking his time as if he hadn't a care in the world. Sakura attributed this to the healing effects of fresh air and sunlight, although she secretly wished that she had at least something to do with it.
Sakura had gotten in a good three minutes of observing Kakashi before he noticed that she was looking at him; he shifted the gaze of his eye in her direction. The sudden recognition caught Sakura by surprise; her eyes widened as she blinked and looked away. Kakashi actually laughed, which made her look back up at him; she had rarely heard him laugh, or at least not in a long while.
"Am I really that interesting to look at?" he joked. Sakura smiled but didn't say anything, looking somewhere in the general vicinity of 'straight ahead'.
Now, Kakashi figured, it was his turn to 'observe' her. Her hair and some of her face was dappled with sunlight, but the rest of her head was cast in a greenish shadow. Her eyes glittered softly, reflecting the light. The vestiges of her smile still decorated her face, but for the most part, her expression was somewhat blank. Kakashi smiled underneath his mask; she looked so much like Rin had on days like this.
"Kakashi, don't you just love the sound of the birds all chirping together like this? It's like they're singing for us."
Kakashi turned his head forward, dimly realizing that he couldn't remember the last time he had smiled so many times in one day.
The level of the ground gradually started to ascend, and Kakashi and Sakura were soon walking almost uphill. It wasn't necessarily steep, but Sakura dragged her feet somewhat as her stomach grumbled hungrily.
"I don't suppose this 'somewhere nice' has nice food?" Sakura joked, little hope for a positive response. Kakashi laughed, saying, "I'm afraid not." Sakura sighed, although she was secretly struggling to keep a straight face.
The trees dispersed rather suddenly, and Kakashi and Sakura were met with the sight of small rolling hills running into another, much larger forest further along. Sakura let out a delighted little gasp; she had never thought such a place existed so close to Konoha.
The sun was set high in the clear blue sky, accompanied by the occasional wandering cloud. Kakashi inhaled deeply, taking in the abundant sunlight. He hadn't been here in a long, long time.
Sakura ran forward gleefully, kicking off her sandals as she ran through the green grass. It had never been cut and was tickling her ankles, still slightly wet from the slight drizzle the night before. She twirled around in a lopsided circle, hopping on one foot to keep her balance at one point. Something within her made her so happy she wanted to sing and laugh and dance until her throat was raw and her feet were sore; she contented herself with spinning around until she was so dizzy she collapsed on the top of one of the miniature hills. She lay splayed out in the grass, thinking, It's nice to feel like a kid again every once in awhile.
Kakashi had watched her, amused as she pranced around as if she hadn't a care in the world. He himself had never done anything like that as a child; watching Sakura gave him a bittersweet feeling, but he decided that, for the time being, he would ignore the bitterness and just enjoy the sweetness. He almost laughed when she lost her balance and fell over, ambling over to where she now lay in the grass with her limbs outstretched, breathing in deeply.
"Having fun?" he asked, his eye crinkled into a smile.
Sakura nodded idly, not looking at Kakashi. He crouched down next to her to see what had caught her attention; her wide eyes were focused on the sky, watching clouds drift slowly past.
Kakashi had never really found the time to stare at clouds, although he knew that it was a favorite pastime of a certain student of Asuma's. He figured that now was as good as time as ever to start; he lowered himself to the ground, folding his arms behind his head and crossing one of his legs over his knee, letting his foot dangle idly.
The warm breeze felt very refreshing; it taunted him, whispering in his ear and trying to persuade him to remove his mask so that he could feel it fully. As he watched the fluffy formations move slowly across the sky, he seriously considered it; after all, the breeze did feel oh so very nice…
"Kakashi-sensei?" His train of thought was broken by Sakura's voice.
"Have you ever done this before?" she asked. "Watched clouds, I mean."
"No, I haven't…" Kakashi said. However, a foggy memory suddenly surfaced in his mind. "Well, actually…"
Sakura turned her head towards him slightly, her curiosity piqued.
Kakashi continued, a hint of discomfort in his voice. "Once, when I was very small, I remember… my father and I watched them together."
"Mmm…" Sakura closed her eyes, breathing slowly and deeply as the breeze rustled the tall blades of grass around her face. The sun's calm light warmed her skin comfortably; she hadn't felt this good in quite some time.
Time slowly passed as the two of them lay together in a calm silence, both relaxing like they hadn't in what felt like the longest time. Both were lost in their thoughts, not knowing that they were thinking about similar things.
"What is sunshine?" A four-year-old Sakura was sitting in her mother's flower garden, watching the soil fall through the cracks in between her fingers.
"What is sunshine?" Mrs. Haruno repeated, looking at Sakura curiously.
Sakura nodded. "I can feel it on my skin, but I can't taste it and I can't smell it and no matter how hard I try, I can't hold it in my hands." She held out her empty hands, palms facing her mother.
Mrs. Haruno put down her gardening tools, crouching down to Sakura's level and cupping her chin in the space between her thumb and forefinger. "Hmm, that's a good question," she said. "I suppose that sunshine is… well, sunshine is happiness, I guess."
"Mm-hm," Mrs. Haruno said, nodding. Noticing the confused look on Sakura's face, she elaborated. "Do you know where sunshine comes from?"
Sakura pointed to the sun, a tiny dot of light set high in the afternoon sky.
"That's right," Mrs. Haruno said. "Sunshine comes from the sun. But the sun doesn't always shine, does it?"
Sakura shook her head. "Sometimes it's cloudy and sometimes it even rains."
"Mm-hm," Mrs. Haruno said again. "When it's dark and cloudy, the sun is sad. When it's sunny outside, the sun is so happy that it wants the whole world to know."
"So… when the sun is happy, the world is happy?" Sakura asked, her face twisted up in concentration.
"Well…" Mrs. Haruno considered her answer before speaking. "Sometimes that's the case. Usually, when the sun is shining, you just feel happier inside, don't you?"
Sakura nodded enthusiastically, smiling.
"Other times, though, you're sad even when it's sunny outside, aren't you?" Mrs. Haruno asked.
Sakura's face fell a little as she thought about this before nodding once. "Yep!" she said, a solemn expression on her face.
Mrs. Haruno laughed; she looked so serious. "But when you're sad, the sun's there to remind you that you won't be sad forever, and that there is hope for tomorrow."
"So… sunshine is hope?" Sakura asked, finally getting to the bottom of the situation.
Mrs. Haruno nodded, smiling kindly at Sakura.
"That's right. Sunshine is hope."
- - - -
"Daddy?" A three-year-old Kakashi was sitting on his father's shoulders, his arms wrapped around his neck. Sakumo was standing in the middle of an empty stretch of grass, his eyes closed as he felt the wind rustle through his hair.
"What is it, 'Kashi?" he asked, his eyes still closed.
"What is sunshine?"
"What is sunshine?" Sakumo repeated, cocking his head to the side. "That's an interesting question. Why do you ask?"
Kakashi shifted his position on his father's shoulders, wrapping his little legs a little bit tighter around his father's chest.
"'Cause I can see the sun and I can feel it on my skin but I can't touch it." He curled up one of his fists as if to emphasize the fact that he was holding nothing.
"Hmmm…" Sakumo considered his answer, hoisting Kakashi up a little higher. "Well… When I think of sunshine, I usually think of happy things."
"Mm-hm," Sakumo said, his deep voice rumbling in his throat. "When I wake up in the morning and the sun is shining, it reminds me of happier times. You know… back when there wasn't all of this war and we could just take some time off to appreciate things."
"A… appreeshet?" Kakashi worked his tongue around this new word.
"Appreciate," Sakumo said, carefully annunciating each syllable. "It means to be thankful for the things you have, even if they're not of value to anyone but you."
"Appreciate…" Kakashi stored this word into his ever-growing vocabulary. It sounded pretty important, even if he didn't fully understand it yet.
"Anyways," Sakumo said, " we were talking about sunshine, right? Like I was saying, when the sun is shining it makes me think that we will win this war, and that peace isn't very far away." He paused, contemplating what he had just said, before adding, "I guess that, in a way, sunshine isn't so much happiness as it is hope."
Sakumo laughed good-naturedly. "Come on, 'Kashi, don't tell me you don't know what hope is!"
"I know what it is!" Kakashi said defensively, swinging his legs in protest at being underestimated. "I didn't think sunshine was a feeling, though."
"Well, technically, it's just the name for the light the sun gives off," Sakumo responded, "but it can mean a lot more to different people. To me, it means hope. Take it or leave it."
Kakashi reached the hand he had curled into a fist earlier down towards one of his father's. He brushed the edges of it lightly, saying quietly, "Hope."
Sakumo entwined his thick, rough fingers with Kakashi's small soft ones.
"Hope. Sunshine is hope."
Sakura sat up, stretching. She rubbed at the little tears that formed in the corners of her eyes as she yawned.
"Ready to head home?" she asked, turning to Kakashi.
Kakashi slowly blinked his eye open, staring up blankly at the sky. The sun's position had changed considerably; it was now slowly sinking towards the western horizon. How long have we been here?
Kakashi blinked again before rising slowly to his feet.
"All right," he said, holding in a yawn.
Sakura also stood up. "I'm staaarving!" she complained, hunching over and clutching her stomach.
Kakashi laughed, scratching the back of his neck.
"Come on, then, let's go get something to eat."
A mischievous grin crawled onto Sakura's face. Without saying a word, she turned and started running back towards the village. It took Kakashi's brain, still a bit slow, a few full seconds to register the fact that she was sprinting towards the forest.
"Hey, wait up!" he called after her, cupping his hands around his mouth.
"Race you there, Dad!" was the only response he got before she disappeared into the trees.
Kakashi sighed; what he needed was a nice sit-down meal, not a competition of the fittest with the reward being dibs on the better seat at the ramen stand. However, it seemed that it was unavoidable, so he channeled a tiny amount of chakra to his feet and began running after her.
Sunshine is hope.
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