A/N: Sorry about the delay! It was difficult writing this chapter as it's the last and I wanted to strike the right balance and tone while tying up all the loose ends. That, and December is one of those months. XD So enjoy. I think I've kept you guys waiting long enough.


Chapter Twenty-One

About thirty-two years prior to this story, Hatake Sakumo returned home from his first foray into war to find his fiancée pregnant – the one who'd felt sorry for him the night before he'd set out on his five month war campaign and taken his virginity. No one liked to die a virgin, after all.

Now Kakashi had wondered if what he was feeling now was a little like what his father had felt at that time. A little gut-wrenching panic, some denial, and most of all fear. Fear that the moment he turned up on Sakura's doorstep she would beat him into a bloody pulp for having put her in that condition.

But I'm always so careful, he thought. She said she was on birth control…

How could this have happened?

Well, aside from the obvious way…

It was typical. The first time he let his guard down – the first girl he trusted enough to forget protection – and this happened. Although perhaps that was the point? There was no other girl or woman he could imagine ever being with like that. If he ever had children, it could only be with Sakura, but that didn't mean he wanted her to have the burden thrust upon her without warning or discussion. That was fair on no one.

But he couldn't just turn up on her doorstep like this – looking like some kind of yeti that had wandered in out of the wilderness. He hadn't been shaving as often as he should, he was wearing two coats because the melted snow had thoroughly soaked through the first one, and the result was that he really did look like a rabid hobo. The smell probably didn't help either. Personally he didn't find it offensive, but he knew not everyone liked Eau De Wet Dog. He had to admit to summoning the pack on some the recent bitter nights to share body heat… and odours.

It was decided. He would have to go home and make himself semi-presentable, and in the mean time he could try to think of something to say to Sakura, and/or make arrangements for his funeral.

He was looking forward to being home again. He was looking forward to hot water, indoor plumbing, electricity, and the familiar smell of his own bed. For the past six months he'd been in and out of hotels and taverns and had even snuck into the occasional love motel. Although they were cheap and handy, he tried to avoid the latter if possible. Booking in alone to a hotel set up specifically for lovers was always a bit depressing, and on those nights he found himself acutely aware of his own solitude, sorely missing a warm, feminine body to draw against his own. And not just any feminine body. His itch was back, as it always was after a few weeks and months spent alone, but it was still as specific as before. It wanted Sakura. Only Sakura.

He wanted Sakura.

But first – a shower.

Kakashi rattled up the stairwell of his apartment block, shifting the backpack on his shoulder that seemed to be growing heavier as if in anticipation of being dropped with a satisfying thump on a threshold. There was his old doormat. There was the scratched golden '9' painted on his green door. Here was his key, still hiding in the gap above the door frame, with a slight coating of dust to reassure him that no one had touched it since he'd left. He turned it in the lock and pushed the door open. His backpack straps were already sliding to his elbows, ready to be flung off triumphantly.

Two startled faces peered at him from a yellow couch.

Kakashi stopped dead.

It was hard to say who was more surprised.

"Uh… what are you doing in my apartment?" Kakashi asked the couple cuddled up on a sofa he didn't remember ever owning, watching a television set he didn't think he owned either.

"Your apartment?" The woman got to her feet, hands fisted on her hips. "Who do you think you are – walking in here like you own the place?!"

"I do own this place," Kakashi said reasonably. "Are you squatters or something?"

The woman's face turned red with rage. "Who gave you that key?!"

"Hatake-san! What are you doing back so soon?"

Kakashi turned to see the landlord hurrying down the corridor towards him, obviously having heard the commotion. The woman was quite shrill, after all. "Uchida-san," he greeted. "Why are there people in my apartment?"

"Um, because, you see, yourrentwasn'tturningupsoIsolditoff." The landlord bowed in deep apology to the couple inside the apartment, and hastily ushered Kakashi out to shut the door as if he was the intruder.

"What's going on?" Kakashi demanded, more perplexed than anything else.

"I've had no way of contacting you," his landlord explained. "Your rent stopped coming so I had no choice. The property market is rising, you know, I can't just leave an empty apartment sitting there. It's a money drain. I had to rent it off again."

Ok. Slightly mercenary, but if Kakashi was a landlord he probably would have done the same. "But what about all my stuff?" he asked, immediately thinking of all the Icha Icha books he'd had safely stored under his bed. Where were they now?

"Your lady friend took most of your possessions, I believe," his landlord said anxiously. "You'll have to ask her."

"My lady friend?" Kakashi echoed.

"The one with pink hair, I can't remember her name."

Of course Sakura had taken possession of his possessions. Probably to burn them.

"So I'm homeless," Kakashi lamented sadly.

"Don't you have friends to stay with?"

"I'm not sure…" He wasn't confident that this village didn't still hate him

Kakashi stared off into the middle distance, facing the harsh reality that now not only did he look like a homeless bum, he was a homeless bum.

"I'm sorry about this Hatake-san, but I'm going to need the spare key back," the landlord said uneasily.

What choice did he have? Kakashi sighed and silently handed the dusty key to his former landlord and made a mental note to find new accommodation. Probably a house. With a spare bedroom for the baby.

"Oh, god." He could feel the blood drain from his own face.

"Sorry?" the landlord bleated.

"Nothing," Kakashi muttered, drifting away.

It was still snowing outside. The pale sky seemed to reflect the landscape and Kakashi blew out a sigh that escaped through his scarf in a cloud of white. He liked the snow, but there seemed to be no escape from it today. "Shit, it's cold," he whispered to himself as he stuffed his hand deep into his coat pockets and began trailing in the vague direction of Sakura's apartment.

Since Tsunade had spoken to him he'd had at least twenty minutes now to come up with something to say to Sakura, but still his mind was a droning blank that offered nothing useful. What did you say in this situation? 'Hello' might be a good start, if he lived that long to get it out.

A shriek and a thump from somewhere ahead of him made him stop and snap his attention back onto his surroundings. He lifted his eyes to peer through the swirl of snow to see a pale, dark-haired girl in a purple bobble hat and woollen mittens staring at him in unadulterated horror, her hands clasped over her mouth and the parcel of food she'd been carrying now stuck in the snow at her feet.

She'd always been a bit of a weird girl, that Hinata, but he wasn't exactly one to talk. "Yo." He raised his hand, and then noticed Naruto standing beside her, looking just as surprised and almost as horrified. "You two look well."

"Hey, you're back!" At least Naruto recovered and had the decency to look pleased, even if still a little wary. "Sensei, when did you get back?"

"Just now, really," he replied vaguely, glancing over Hinata who was still frozen in place and slowly turning red. "What are you two up to? Anything interesting?"

"What – oh!" Naruto rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and grinned. "We're just on our way back from the wedding party. It went on all last night, so we kinda crashed at the hotel."

"Wedding?" Kakashi repeated. "Someone got married?"

"Yeah… some guy… with this girl… I don't really remember," Naruto said, trailing his words guiltily.

Kakashi nodded. "I see."

"The food was good though," he added quickly. That was clearly all he remembered. "Where are you going? Home? You better not be. Did you know you've been evicted?"

"No one deigned to send me a note, I see," Kakashi said dryly.

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well you're not the easiest person to contact," he grumbled. "'Cause there's a whoooole load of things we would have told you by now."

"So it seems." Kakashi rearranged the scarf that was threatening to fall off his nose. "I'm off to see Sakura, actually. I presume she still lives in the same place."

Naruto and Hinata glanced at each other seriously, and Hinata finally unstuck to bend down and scoop up her fallen parcels. She looked anxious when she rose to face Kakashi again, while Naruto seemed abnormally subdued. "You've heard about Sakura, right?" he asked.

Kakashi was amazed the boy hadn't lunged for his throat at first sight. "I have," he said.

"What are you going to do?" Hinata piped up, hugging her parcels for dear life. She was standing very close to Naruto, too. That was something Kakashi hadn't noticed before.

"I guess… I guess I'll just go talk to her," he said lamely. "Figure out what she wants to do. And if I have to… I'll marry her."

Hinata dropped her parcels again.

Naruto stared, nonplussed. "Kinda confident, ain't ya?"

"No, not really. I'm expecting her to be pretty angry at me."

"Really…?" Naruto tapped his chin. "I got the feeling she thought you'd be mad at her."

"Mad?" Kakashi echoed, shocked. "Why would I be mad? It's not like I didn't have an equal hand in it."

Naruto looked slightly confused. "I guess you could think of it that way…" he said thoughtfully. "Anyway, Sakura left the party last night, so she's probably at home. She has all your stuff there, by the way."

"Yeah," Kakashi sighed. "Thanks."

He slipped past them, aiming for the bridge and casually glanced over his shoulder to see Naruto stooping to pick up the fallen parcels. He was smiling up at Hinata who was shyly tucking her hair behind he ear and smiling back. Ah, thought Kakashi, suddenly understanding. How cute.

It was with a great deal of trepidation that Kakashi forged on to the street where Sakura lived. He dived out of the snow into the foyer of her apartment block and stamped the snow from his feet. One of the tenants was collecting her post from the lockers ahead of him and the elderly woman turned to nonchalantly look over him. She quickly did a double take. "Why, if it isn't Hatake Kakashi!" she said, clasping her hands to her chest. "Oh, she will be pleased!"

That put Kakashi's spirits considerably higher than they had been. Maybe Sakura had missed him after all?

But when he knocked on her apartment door, there was no answer. The polite thing would have been to wait outside, but Kakashi grew worried. What if she was in, but something was wrong? What if she'd fallen on her back and couldn't get up? Were pregnant women very much like tortoises? Kakashi didn't know, but Sakura had no ward tags up and when even the most rudimentary lock-picking jutsu could unlock her door, it was as good as open anyway. He let himself inside and took a moment to look around at familiar sights and take in the familiar smells.

The apartment was a bit messier than he remembered, but she probably hadn't been expecting company. Lots of empty tea cups littered the living room table, along with a heap of paperwork. Dishes were piled up in the kitchen sink and a few articles of worn clothing lay scattered across the floor. There was a green vest that had the scent of her old perfume clinging to the neckline, and a pair of shorts that hung on back of a new chair she'd had placed in the corner by a new bookshelf. Both the chair and the bookshelf he recognised as his own.

And there, in as shabby a condition as ever, were his Icha Icha books.

Kakashi nearly wept. "Oh, thank god." He went down on his knees and counted them, and then took each one out to make sure they were exactly as he remembered. A few extra fingerprints and creases made him wonder if someone had been reading them in his absence…

All the rooms in Sakura's apartment were now a little cramped and crowded. She'd managed to squeeze his chest of drawers alongside her own in the bedroom, while the entire contents of his study – all the scrolls, folders, paperwork, and books were now piled carefully in the corner of the spare room where the rest of the furnishings that he owned were now stacked so densely there was no room to move.

Well. He was glad she hadn't burned anything.

Deciding to make himself a little more at home, he shook off his coats and laid them out to dry on the back of living room chair, and then went to find the bathroom to see what he could do about the beard. He didn't want to scare Sakura, after all. For a while he picked up the pink lady razor that sat on the window sill and deliberated hard… but eventually he decided to go with one of his own kunai. He was trying to ingratiate himself to Sakura, after all, and that wouldn't happen if he made a mess of her bath things. He did use her shaving foam, but he found the smell of rose hips oddly pleasing.

But it was as he gave into the temptation to rummage through her fridge that Kakashi began noticing odd little details that put him on edge. Details such as the two glasses sitting on the work counter side-by-side. Or the two cushions next to the living room table that bore the indent of two separate bodies.

It didn't necessarily mean anything. Maybe Naruto had been round recently? Nevertheless Kakashi found himself heading back to the bedroom. The bed covers were rumpled and in disarray with the quilt half draped on the floor. But most importantly, there was only one imprint on the pillows.

This consoled him a little, though he told himself that it didn't matter if Sakura had found herself someone new. He'd urged her to do just that, and if she was happy then Kakashi wouldn't intrude upon that. Still, the idea of some other man touching her the way he once had was enough to tug his brow down and cause him to grip the armrest of his armchair when he sat down in it.

Snowflakes still whirled past the window, and Kakashi had second thoughts about whether he should even be there. Maybe she wouldn't thank him for crashing her apartment after all, though old habits died hard.

It was as Kakashi was wondering if he should leave and come at this from a new angle, that a knock sounded at the door. Irrationally, his first thought was that it was Sakura. Then he remembered how unlikely it was for someone to knock on their own apartment door.

Kakashi eased himself up and jerked the door open an inch to peer out. His sheer surprise at who stood out there made him haul it open completely. "Shinra," he said flatly, too surprised express anything more.

Shinra looked just as surprised as Kakashi felt though. "Kakashi-sempai," he murmured. "I didn't know you were back."

"I just got back today," Kakashi told him. "Haven't seen you in a while. Not since you left ANBU. You're working in R and D now, aren't you? Which department was it again?"

"Poisons, sempai."

"Yes, that was it." Kakashi folded his arms. "So… how's it been?"

"Great. Um… you?"

Kakashi stared at him.

"Oh," said Shinra. "Right."

"And what brings you to Sakura's home?" Kakashi asked, and added a little hopefully, "Working together on some project, I imagine?"

"Oh, I was just returning her gloves," Shinra said, pulling a pair of soft white mittens from his pocket.

Kakashi frowned. "Why do you have them?"

"She left them at the hotel."


"My sister got married yesterday-"


"-thanks, and some of us stayed on at the hotel."

"You mean… you and Sakura stayed in a hotel together last night?" Kakashi asked slowly.

Shinra went pale. "N-No. Sakura left last night. We only attended the wedding together, we didn't spend the night together or anything."

"So," Kakashi went on, even more slowly, "you and Sakura are… an item?"

"Well, no. Sort of. But not really. Not if you're back anyway."

"No, don't say that," Kakashi sighed. "Me and Sakura aren't together anymore. I'm not going to stand in your way. In fact, I even respect you. Not many men would go near a girl in that condition."

"Yeah, well, she hasn't been entirely popular, it's true. But none of that bothers me, sempai. I don't pay much attention to gossip."

"You're a good guy, Shinra," Kakashi said, realising he sounded like he rather didn't mean it.

"You're not so bad yourself, sempai."

An awkward silence followed, where Shinra twiddled the gloves in his hands and Kakashi debated whether or not to slam the door in his face and break his glasses.

"I think I'll just leave these here then, shall I?" Shinra said, breaking the tense moment by leaning around Kakashi and dropping the gloves on top of the shoe rack. "I'll be seeing you around then, sempai?"

Kakashi doubted that but watched the younger man wave goodbye and then shut the door with far more restraint and calm than he really felt.

He probably stood there for five minutes, staring at the back of the door and thinking hard about Sakura. And Shinra. And Sakura and Shinra together. He was shorter than Kakashi – just a bit taller than Sakura and probably fit her better. He was a serious, intelligent guy – enough to be like Sasuke – and probably any girlfriend of his was a very lucky girl. He was easily the best Sakura had ever dated.

At least her taste had improved vastly since Ikki.

His gaze turned to the pale gloves on the wooden rack and he sighed inwardly. He hadn't really banked on Sakura getting over him and finding someone new, though he had told himself repeatedly to expect it. He hadn't listened to his own voice of reason.

There was nothing left to do.

Kakashi grabbed his damp coats and shouldered into them roughly, before he wrapped his scarf tightly around his throat and face. He grabbed his backpack on the way out the door and disappeared out of the door into the snow. Where would he go? Maybe a hotel or an inn? He had money to rent a room. Frankly, he had money to move into a new apartment right that very minute, but he was just too tired to think about things like that. It was beginning to look as though he didn't have a reason to stay much longer anyway.

He rounded a corner and bumped straight into a smaller woman. She would have collapsed in a heap with her brown paper bag of shopping if he hadn't caught her by the arms and steadied her. "Sorry," he mumbled distractedly.

The woman righted her bobble hat. "Watch where you're going, you idiot!"

That snappy tone. That crystal voice. That improbable shade of hair.


Haruno Masaki stubbed out her cigarette in the near overflowing ashtray the moment she heard the knock at the door. She'd made a stout promise to quite smoking, and for once she was making a fair go at it, seeing as how she was down to only five a day now. Still, when she opened the door she was accompanied by the strong smell of tobacco and greeted by the slightly reproachful scowl of her daughter.

"Don't look at me like that," she reminded the girl sharply. "I gave birth to you."

"What look?" Sakura said innocently. "May I come in?"

"You're only here for one of three things. It can't be money, because you're earning more than me now. It better not be your belongings, because I sent everything in your room down to the charity shop last Friday. So all that's left is that you feel guilty you haven't dropped by in a while."

Sakura smiled tightly. "Actually, I wanted to give you this," she said, holding out a small piece of folded paper.

Her mother raised an eyebrow and took the paper wordlessly before flipping it open to read. At the first line, her heart flipped in her chest. "Sakura, what is this?" she demanded, turning pale. "I hope this isn't a joke."

"I did some asking around at headquarters," Sakura replied blandly. "It took me a month to track him down, but I did it in the end. That's his address and his number, see, he's retired to a place on the East Fen River. You can write to him or call him or whatever. What do you think?"

Haruno Masaki was speechless. "Sakura – this is out of the question! What were you thinking? He's probably married by now; I can't just drop on him out of the blue."

"He was married," Sakura told her quickly, "but now he's divorced. No children."

Megume ran her hand through her hair. "My god…" She looked at her daughter. "Do you think he'd remember me?"

"You said he loved you, right?" Sakura responded.

"Yes, but-"

"And you loved him too, and you never forgot him," she went on. "You said walking away from him was the biggest mistake of your life, but it's not too late. It might be the second biggest mistake of your life if you don't take this opportunity."

"You're one to talk about missed opportunities, madam," Masaki said shortly, turning on her daughter. "What happened to that nice instructor of yours? You just let him walk out because of idiots like your father."

"I thought you didn't approve?" Sakura questioned dubiously.

"No, but I trusted you when you said you were doing what you wanted to do and that you weren't letting fear dictate your decision," her mother said tritely. "Then what did you do? You let people like your father get to you and let that fear take over. Now where is he? God knows. And I know that you like to make people think that you're perfectly happy, but I am your mother, and I do know when a child of mine is down, and for the past few months your smiles have never been so forced."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Sakura said stiffly.

"Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's just around me that you're having to force your smiles. Do you hate me that much?" Masaki put just the right amount of confusion and hurt in her voice to bring the guilt flooding over Sakura's face.

"It's not that," Sakura said, looking away. "I guess I just miss him. A bit. He's never sent any letters to me, and it's not like he wouldn't have time to, right? I'm thinking maybe he's just forgotten me…"

"But he loves you, doesn't he?"

"I think so, but-"

"Once you love someone you don't just forget them," Masaki reminded her daughter sternly. "Does he know you love him?"

"Well, no." The words slipped out before Sakura realised what she'd just admitted to. Her mother was particularly good at making leading questions, and now Sakura looked up and waited for the outburst of disapproval.

But it wasn't forthcoming.

"Well then that's it, obviously," Masaki declared. "Men are more sensitive than you realise, Sakura. If you aren't always open they can feel rejected… and then they'll stay away stupidly thinking that's what you want." As she said this, she looked down at the note in her hand and smoothed her thumb over the scribbled name.

"But it's not just that," Sakura said tiredly, hardly feeling like explaining all the complications that were involved in her relationship with Kakashi. "It's what everyone will think and how our work is affected…"

"Then you can work it out for yourself," her mother said impatiently, "and decide if you truly want to give up the one person who loves and understands you in exchange for the approval of a hundred strangers who don't give a shit about you."

Sakura stared at her for a long time and then sighed. "Typical. I come to do a nice favour for you, but it winds up as a lecture. I'll take care of my love life and you take care of yours and we'll mind each other's business from now on. Deal?"

"You're the worst daughter I have ever had."

"And you're my most terrible mother."

They embraced tersely and Sakura turned to go.

"Button up your coat, you'll freeze to death in this weather," Masaki called, and Sakura rolled her eyes and obeyed sullenly. "And thank you for the note… Sakura."

On her way home, Sakura stopped in at the grocery store and stocked up on the bare essentials she was beginning to run out of. She should have gone yesterday, but the wedding and the reception had run on longer than she'd anticipated, leaving her with this rush of chores to do today, including dropping off her uniform at the laundrette, stocking up on food, and rectifying her mother's tragic love life. All in a day's work for Haruno Sakura.

She was looking forward to getting home, not least because she'd left her gloves back at the wedding reception and her fingers were close to turning black with frostbite. And it was on the last street corner before her apartment that she ran into the bumbling idiot. Naturally, she being the smaller of the two nearly got thrown straight into the bushes, but a pair of strong hands caught her just in time. A flush of embarrassment raced through her and she shook them off, angry at the tall man for making her feel stupid and clumsy.

"Watch where you're going, you idiot!" she snapped as she reached up to make sure her hat was still there.

The man seemed surprised, and she very nearly marched straight past him without ever once looking in his face, until he said…


And Sakura froze, momentarily confused as she tried to place the familiar tone against an unfamiliar silhouette. It helped when he reached up to tug the scarf from his head, as he'd been wearing it like an old woman to protect his ears. She knew that white hair, even if it was a little bit longer than she recalled. The face at least was exactly the same.

When Kakashi came back, Sakura had sort of expected that he would look rugged, tired and a little grizzly – like a man who had spent six months on the edge in some wilderness or another, probably having had to kill rabbits with his bare hands and eat them raw to stay alive. She'd often sat with Ino at the tea house speculating between them how Kakashi would appear when he returned. It was disorientating how much he looked exactly the same, as if he'd barely been gone six days let alone six months. He'd clearly been well-fed in his absence and his skin was as clear and healthy as ever, and not at all gaunt and desperate like she had imagined.


The paper bag began to slip from her numb, mitten-less fingers and in her sudden effort to regain her grasp, a box of mushrooms toppled out and disappeared beneath the snow. A tentative smile broke across her face, but it faded when he didn't return it.

She had also sort of expected that her reunion with Kakashi would have been full of shrieks (mainly hers) and lots of happy embracing and possible kissing. But right now the mood was all wrong. He was looking at her with a carefully blank expression that gave away nothing, but Sakura knew Kakashi well enough by now that if he was deadpan in a situation like this, he was definitely holding something back. She had no idea what that was though.

"W-When did you get back?" she asked, when he said nothing for far too long.

"This morning," he replied. His gaze strayed over her face and down her front. Was he looking at her new coat? It was a duffel, and horribly shapeless, but at least it was as warm as toast. She couldn't tell if he agreed with it or not.

"Um, if you're on your way home, don't bother," she said awkwardly. "Your apartment got repossessed."

"Yes, I know," he said quietly.

A snowflake landed on her eyelashes and she hastily brushed it away. "I have all your stuff at my place."

"Yes, I know."

He was staring at her. Hard.

"Is my nose red or something?" she asked self-consciously. "Why are you staring at me like that?"

He frowned, as if pained. "Sakura," he said tiredly, "why didn't you tell me?"

Oh,no! He already knew about Shinra! She let out a depressed sigh and looked at the ground. "You better come up then. I'll explain everything."

Kakashi was taking this more seriously than she'd expected, but he really had nothing to be so concerned about. She liked Shinra, but she didn't… like him, and hopefully Kakashi would believe that once she'd sat him down and explained it all carefully.

She collected her fallen box of mushrooms from the snow and moved past Kakashi, unnerved by how quiet Kakashi was and how carefully he watched her as if he expected her to drop dead all of a sudden or something. This was reinforced when, halfway up the stairs to her apartment, he offered to take her bag of groceries.

"I can carry them," she rebuked, perplexed about his sudden display of chivalry. "I'm not that fragile."

"Yes, but someone in your condition shouldn't be carrying heavy things."

"My condition?" she echoed in bemusement. She had had the flu a few weeks ago. Maybe he'd heard about that and was, as usual, late to the party. "I'm fine. Don't be such a pedant."

She heard him sigh behind her as she continued valiantly on. "I wish you'd said something sooner."

"It wasn't easy to get hold of you," she said, looking back at him worriedly. "And I didn't think it was that important-"

"You didn't think it was that important?" he echoed, and Sakura heard an anger bleeding through into his tone that made her stop instantly and turn back to him uncertainly on the last flight of stairs to her apartment.

"Are you mad at me?" she asked quietly, fearing she'd dangerously underestimated how possessive this man could be.

But the moment she looked at him and asked that small question, the fight went out of him. "No," he said softly. "But I'm disappointed you didn't think it was important to tell me I'm going to be a father."

"We only hung out a little bit yesterday and went to a wedding but…" she trailed off, his words only just sinking in. "Wait, what's this about you being a father?"

"Tsunade told me everything, Sakura," he said, touching a hand to her shoulder.

She stared at that hand. "Kakashi," Sakura began with grinding patience, "why are you going to be a father?"

"Because… you're pregnant?" He didn't say it with an astounding amount of certainty.

Sakura could only stare dumbly at him before she suddenly smacked his hand off, gathered up her slightly soggy bag of food and turned to storm away.

"Where are you going?" Kakashi asked, catching her by the hood with embarrassing ease to keep her from leaving.

"If the only reason you came back was because you heard some stupidrumour I was pregnant, then you can go right back to where you came from. I am going home. Goodbye."

She tried to twist out of his hold on her coat while simultaneously ignoring his very existence. How can he be so stupid! she quietly seethed to herself. How can he be so insensitive!

"No trust!" she called out angrily, more to herself than Kakashi. "I told you I was on birth control – I told everyone! But no! No one thinks I can handle my own body – obviously I'm pregnant! And now you must come back and take care of me, right? Idiot! I suppose you want to marry me too, huh? Congratulations, Haruno Sakura – you've finally got that leverage over him! Moron! Idiot!"

Kakashi's hand dropped. His face was a picture of pale surprise. "You mean you're… you're not pregnant?"

Sakura, about to march off, whirled on him instead. "Do I look pregnant to you?" she snapped.

Kakashi froze and looked at her. He looked at her belly, but the coat she wore was bulky and hid all kinds of curves beneath it. Very carefully he reached out, knowing he was liable to have his fingers bitten off if she was angry enough, and carefully slipped the top peg from its loop on the front of her coat. Sakura's eyes only narrowed slightly, so he felt safe to undo the next loop, and the next, until the coat hung open and he could slip his hand inside.

His fingers brushed against the fabric of over her stomach – her decidedly flat stomach. He pressed his hand against her and suddenly smiled a self-deprecatory smile. But there was something behind those eyes, and Sakura remained mute as he tugged on the fingers of his gloves to remove them to place his unbearably warm fingers to her cold cheek. "You're not pregnant," he stated.

"Of course I'm not pregnant!" she barked, pushing his hand away before adding more softly. "What kind of idiot are you?" Not unkindly.

Kakashi appeared duly sheepish. "Tsunade-sama kinda implied you were pregnant when I saw her about an hour ago in the Hokage tower…"

Sakura felt a lot of her anger drain, replaced instead by pity. "And you believed her?" she sighed. "What a nasty trick to pull. I bet she was drunk again." At least she knew now that he hadn't returned out of some macho sense of duty. He'd returned because… actually, why had he returned? "What made you come back here?" she asked.

"I had some info for Tsunade."

Sakura's gaze dropped. "Oh. I see."

"And I had a present to give to you."

Inner Sakura sat up much straighter, but outer Sakura feigned apathetic interest. "Oh?" she muttered.

He held up his finger to tell her to wait for a moment as he let his backpack slide onto the step between them. After a little rooting around, a little blue bundle of cloth emerged from the bag.

"Are those my panties?" she asked suspiciously.

"Could be," he said evasively as he handed her the bundle. "But what's important is what's in the panties."

Frowning even more suspiciously, she began to unwrap the bundle of cloth that was her underwear until a curved triangle of leather fell out into her hands. Instantly she forgot all about her huff with the panties and gasped in delight as she unsheathed the trench knife from its burgundy sheath and held it up to examine with a shriek. "It's beautiful! And it's all pink and – ooh look at the little tassels with the plastic lucky kitties on them! Where did you get this?"

"I took on a very dangerous mission for a blacksmith and this was the reward," Kakashi said seriously.

"Oh, you shouldn't have," she purred, quite obviously happy that he had. "I hope the mission wasn't too dangerous."

"I'm afraid it was very perilous," he replied. "His hamster was trapped behind the fridge, and it was terrified. It bit me at least three times."

He held up his hand, and there were fairly recent marks on his fingers, but Sakura doubted they were from any hamster. This sounded like one of his lame lies. "You poor thing," she said, playing along anyway as she clasped her hand over his and gave it a small burst of chakra that would turn the pink marks white. "But it's good to know you were exploiting your full potential while you were away."

Their hands lingered a little longer than necessary together as they both smiled rather stupidly at one another. With awkward reluctance, Sakura moved her hand back and began fiddling with her new toy.

Kakashi's fingers flexed discreetly. "So do you like the gift?" he asked tentatively.

"I love it!" she said quickly, in case he was in any doubt. "It's so me. Thank you so much, Kakashi."

"I didn't know if you would like it," he went on. "Especially after what you did with the last gift I gave you."

Sakura's smile slipped and after a moment she sat with a thump on the step, staring at the pink trench knife on her lap. "I'm sorry. I wish I'd never done that. I only recently found out too…"

"Found out what?" Kakashi frowned, not moving.

She looked up at his open, slightly confused face and felt even worse. How could she have doubted him? "Kimura Yoshi told me that you bought her dresses too… and lingerie. I thought you were just buying my affections or something. I really like that dress as well, but when I thought you were doing it for all the women you slept with, I hated it."

"Oh," was all Kakashi said.

"But I only found out a few days ago that she made it up. And now I feel guilty for having believed her. I should have known she was just trying to spite me." Sakura sighed. "Jealous cow…"

Kakashi sighed as well and dipped onto the step below hers. "If she was trying to spite anyone, it would have been me. But no… more likely she was just trying to warn you off me. Her opinion of me was never high, so maybe her intentions were earnest, even if she lied. That woman would look out for a fellow female ever before she did a man."

"I see," Sakura said quietly.

"Shame about the dress though…" Kakashi murmured. "It was kind of expensive."

Sakura bent double and groaned into her knees.

"You're not getting another one."

"Like I would ask you to!" she said, snapping upright in offence. "I could buy my own Suzuki's dress right now if I wanted to! I am on the jonin payroll, you know."

He blinked at her in surprise, and then smiled. "I knew you would do it."

"Even though you tried to fail me?" she reminded him with a scowl.

"I failed you because I knew you would make a jonin if I didn't," he said in an off-hand way. "I didn't want that back then; you weren't ready. But I don't know. Maybe you are now? Though I have to admit I'm a little ticked off that you now outrank me."

"I'm…" Sakura swallowed hard. "I'm going to be a teacher soon."

"I'm sorry."

"You bastard, you're supposed to say 'congratulations'," Sakura grumbled. "Maybe I should take you on as one of my pupils?"

Kakashi laughed caustically. "I'm sure the villagers would love that."

"They might surprise you," Sakura said quietly.

He looked at her and she smiled as if she knew something he didn't. But now he also noticed that she seemed kind of cold, huddled on the step like that, and he knew from when she'd touched his hand that her fingers were like strips of ice.

"I won't keep you," he suddenly decided. "Go inside and get warm. I need to go sort out some accommodation before I wind up sleeping on the street."

Sakura stared at him as he stood up. "You're not staying here?" she asked, as if it was obvious.


"All your stuff is here, though."

"Do you really want me here?" he asked softly. "Even after all this time?"

"Well… I have a present for you too," Sakura told him with a faint blush. "You'll have to come in to get it though."

A slow smile spread across Kakashi's face.

"Stop it – it's not dirty!" Sakura hissed.

"I'm not interested if it's not dirty," he teased.

Well.. it was nice to see it wasn't just his appearance that hadn't changed, she thought, as she flushed again and turned to lead the way up the steps with her grocery bag and trench knife in her arms. When she came to her door she frowned. "I'm sure I locked this thing," she muttered, jiggling the key uselessly in the keyhole.

Kakashi contrived to look as if this had nothing to do with him, and followed her inside. She set down her groceries and Kakashi's gift immediately on the kitchen counter and began stripping off her coat, hat and scarf as she headed towards the bedroom. Kakashi's eyebrows came up. "I thought you said this wasn't dirty?"

She looked back at him with a smile. She knew he was teasing her. "You've got such a one-track mind," she accused.

Which was true. And Kakashi found himself beginning to relax for the first time in a very long time. At least six months. He'd been worried about her, and worried that if he returned she would have turned colder to him, and for a few minutes back there he'd been utterly terrified that he'd dropped her into a mess she wasn't ready for. But now she was here, and she was smiling at him in that infectious way of hers, and he could have just stood there and stared at her all day if she'd let him. She wouldn't though, because she clearly had something to show him.

"Come here." She stood by the window and pulled the curtains back, gesturing him to come forward. He did, slowly, hoping she wasn't intending to show him the snow, because while the gift of snow was sort of cute and romantic, he'd had quite enough of the stuff, thank you very much.

But it wasn't outside the window that Sakura was looking – it was at the two plant pots sitting on the windowsill. One was Mr Ukki, whom Kakashi was very pleased to see was looking as green and verdant as ever. In the other pot, painted white with red roses, was a small seedling that looked very much like Mr Ukki when he'd been a wee baby plant.

"What's this?" Kakashi asked, charmed.

"Well, I pruned Mr Ukki after you left, and I decided I might as well plant one of his cuttings and see if it took. And here it is!" she smiled proudly at her handiwork. "Your plant had a baby!"

She looked at him and beamed, but there must have been something on his face, because he smile quickly slipped. "Hey, Kakashi," she began slowly. "You aren't disappointed, are you…?"

"About Ukki Junior?" he asked lightly. "He's a fine young plant."

"No, I mean… you're not disappointed that I'm not pregnant?"

"No, no. I'm relieved."

"I know you are, but you're not wearing your mask, and I can see you're…" she trailed off and turned back to the baby plant to poke it gently. "I didn't know you wanted kids."

"I don't," he said quickly.

She gave him a measured stare.

"Well, I wouldn't say 'no' to them, if they were on offer."

"Like buy-one-get-one-free cabbages at the grocers?"

"Well, you know what I mean." He could only shrug helplessly. "What do you care anyway? You're not seriously suggesting that-"

"No!" she said, just as quickly and defensively as him. "I want kids too one day. Not right now but… some day." She looked up at him and went pink in the cheeks. "Kakashi, nothing ever felt right before. I didn't like myself when I was with people like Ikki and I was scared of what would happen to me. And when you went away it made me realise how much I… and I'm not scared anymore. I look forward to the future now. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that when I ever get round to having children, I wouldn't mind them being yours… you know… if you want…"

She looked so endearing when she said that, that Kakashi couldn't help but tug her forward by the elbow and press a short, impulsive kiss to her mouth. He hadn't exactly planned it this way. He'd been fully prepared, upon his return, to respect a new distance between them since it was likely the ardent feelings of an eighteen year old would have cooled after a few months. Then Tsunade's practical joke had probably taken ten more years off his life, and now he was just so damn glad to see Sakura that he felt no compunctions in forgetting to keep his distance.

And when it became clear that Sakura didn't particularly mind being kissed once, he kissed her again. And once more after that.

But suddenly she broke away with reluctance. "But you never wrote like I told you to."

"I did write," he said easily. "I wrote you nearly thirty letters; I just never had the courage to send them."

"Why?" she asked. Cowardice and Kakashi weren't two words that belonged in the same sentence.

"I figured you wouldn't want to be bothered, especially if you'd moved on."

"How could you think I'd move on so quickly?" Her cold fingers curled into his hair, reminding him that she'd been outside without her mittens – the mittens Shinra had dropped off.

Against his will, he pulled back. "What about your new boyfriend?"

"Who's that?" she asked a little dazedly.


"Oh." She seemed to remember. "It was just the one date. Nothing serious. He'd understand anyway."

"How are you so sure?" he asked, tracing her cheek.

"Because I should probably warn you about the rumour," Sakura said quietly, biting her lip. "A lot of people… and by that I mean pretty much everyone sort of seems to be under the impression that you're in love with me."

Kakashi paused, wondering if that was just a fucking good guess produced by the rumour mill or if Naruto was involved somewhere. He hadn't really expected Naruto to be able to keep his mouth shut for six months anyway… "And what is the rumour about you?" he asked curiously.

"That… I'm also in love with you…"

He nodded seriously. "Rumours tend to lend themselves to the odd grain of truth, don't you think?"

"Sometimes," she agreed with a self-conscious smile.

He swept it away with a deep kiss, taking her taste into his mouth with a soft groan. He'd almost forgotten this sweet taste that mingled with the smell of her shampoo and faint perfume that made her seem entirely edible. He couldn't stop now, not after six months alone with just memories.

"Kakashi," Sakura whispered, doing her best to break his concentration. "Just don't leave like that again. Please…"

He paused and looked down into her face and knew that something about this girl had changed since he'd last seen her. There was confidence in her face and for once her eyes didn't shift away guiltily. She didn't feel regret to hold him like this, or to kiss him, and if she looked at him with eyes like that from now on he saw no reason to disappear. This was a woman who was comfortable with what she wanted, and that awkward, uncertain girl he'd first taken to bed who didn't understand relationships or sex, had matured into the person before him.

He'd changed her. And god only knew how much she'd changed him. It was safe to say that during a six month trip from home he would at least get off with a few women, and while he had looked at the occasional attractive woman he came across, it was usually only because he saw something of Sakura in them. He'd never been taken by the urge to bed one. On the rare occasion when a woman had approached him, he'd found their boldness not as charming as perhaps he once had.

There had never been another woman who had snared his attention like this, and he wondered if it was because he had known her for so long beforehand. She wasn't just another woman in a long chain of short, mediocre relationships. She was a girl he had already invested a lot of time and effort into training, protecting, and ultimately nurturing into ally who had done her fair share of protecting in return. Their relationship had deepened from simply that of teacher and student, to being near-equal comrades. And likewise, when she had come to him for sex and he'd uncovered a new sexual awakening in her, he should have known that it would come to mean more. That was just how it was with this girl. She'd already meant more to him than all his previous lovers combined long before he had looked up to see her at the window.

So he smiled at her and stroked the back of his fingers down her soft cheek. "I go wherever you want me to, Sakura."

That seemed to placate her, and she smiled up at him in a way that invoked his inner Gai and made him want to wax lyrical about the beauty of love and youth. That seemed a bit much though and he didn't think Sakura would appreciate it, so he settled for kissing her again and enjoying the knowledge that this was the first embrace of many more to come.

"There's something I've been dying to ask you for a long, long time," he murmured as he backed her towards the bed.

"What is it?" Sakura asked, pulling her arms around his neck.

"Which panties are you wearing today?"

Sakura went limp in his arms with a groan of sheer exasperation.

People would always talk. That came with the territory when you find yourself living with your ex-sensei in his new apartment.

The odd stare still followed them as they walked down the street, but they were far less malicious than they had been. And even though these looks failed to bother Sakura anymore now that she was certain of her place next to Kakashi, it was still heart-warming that she could rely upon Naruto to glare at any disapproving old gossipers and shout, "Oi! What are you looking at?" in a forthright, shaming way only Naruto could manage.

And things got easier when Kakashi went back to ANBU. Ranks such as chunin and jonin were irrelevant in that organisation, and Kakashi picked up right where he'd left off – as Commander of the Fourth Division. And it made a difference. People could respect a relationship between an ANBU division commander and a jonin medic the way they couldn't a teacher and his student. They were still the same people they had been then, but now their relationship was respectable and downright nearly ordinary. So ordinary it risked being forgotten – well, if it hadn't been for their unconventional start. But at least people could now forgive these two shinobi who had, in their loneliness, reached out to each other at an inappropriate time.

These days nothing could stop Sakura from smiling, especially when their eyes met. Perhaps that was what had been different before? Now, whenever they caught the odd nasty whisper or condemning stare, they only had to look at each other to know that those people were wrong, and their relationship was not sordid or dirty, or something to be ashamed of. But that certainty hadn't always been there, and there were times in the past when they'd looked at each other and not known how the other felt, and it was in those times that the vile accusations of a perverted, deviant relationship had struck the deepest, because there had been a possibility it might have been true. The gaping uncertainty had nearly been their undoing.

Doubt was something in the past now. There was no doubt when they decided to live together. There was no shame when they brushed hands and sat close in the booth when they went out dining with their friends. There was no hesitation when answering incredulous individuals if they were actually serious about each other. And there was no guilt or regret when in the privacy of their own home they touched and kissed and made love every night, and then talked until they fell asleep – or rather Sakura talked and Kakashi listened to the soft lull of her voice, both just happy to absorb each other's presence.

There would always be talk. But while there was love it was meaningless.

And there would always be love.

A/N: Well, I hope people enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it! Thank you for all your feedback, I've loved reading everyone's comments. A girl can get a big head from hearing so much support and enthusiasm. XD So thank you again, and I look forward to finishing up other stories and starting new ones.