A/N: At the bottom.

As Sakura stood and stretched, her arms reaching far above her head, she realized quite suddenly that she stank to high heaven. Mind reeling from the smell, she quickly lowered her arms and peeled off of her clothes. Taking the washcloth, she dipped it into the basin of water Akane had provided for her earlier and began to wash.

"I spent so much time crying, I didn't even bother with my personal care," mumbled Sakura, amazed that she had let herself drop to such a sorry state. She did have a reason though, and it was because she was mourning. Yuu had been her friend, and to lose him was to lose a part of herself. It was painful.

"And it was my fault," whispered Sakura harshly to herself, scrubbing harder.

Even though Kakashi had said she had no reason to be guilty, she couldn't believe him. Or, perhaps, she chose not to believe. For some perverse reason, she enjoyed keeping Yuu's death fresh through her guilt. It made it so that she could never forget his wonderful face and contagious personality, no matter how hard she tried. The memory was so alive and so vibrant in her guilt, it almost seemed as if he was still alive.

Sakura was now staring at the bowl of water sitting in front of her with an emotionless gaze. She had to be going crazy. There was no other reason for such irrational behavior and thoughts. Was she really so wracked with sorrow that she had to continue spinning stories around herself to ease the pain? She couldn't help it, though. She couldn't face it. It was too sad, too hurtful.

"I'm sorry, Yuu," whispered Sakura, not even sure why she was apologizing.

He had so much potential, and now it was gone. Poof! and there went all of the wonderful possibilities. Death was a cruel mistress, and Sakura hated her bitterly.

"It's not fair," whispered Sakura angrily as she threw the rag into the washbowl, ignoring the water that splashed onto the floor and up the wall. "It wasn't his time!"

The more she thought about what was taken away from Yuu, the angrier she became until she was frothing with fury, her guilt being burned away into forgotten ashes. No, her attention was focused on another.

Vighan. It was his fault. The evil bastard, the disgusting monster. How dare he take Yuu away? He wasn't even worthy enough to look upon such a noble face as Yuu's, and to kill him was a sin above sins.

She hated Vighan more than ever, and it took all that she had not to take Akane's precious porcelain bowl and smash it against the wall in anger. Instead, she took the pillow from the bed, pushed her face into it, and half screamed, half cried at the top of her lungs. And then her screams melted into sobs as she slowly sank to the floor and began to cry for Yuu.

"I miss you, Yuu, I miss you. It's not fair that you're gone. I wish I could do something, anything! But Vighan's already dead."

Vighan was dead, and Sakura realized that his death was not fitting enough a punishment for what he had done. She pulled her head back and angrily beat at the pillow, imagining it was Vighan's ugly head.

"I wish you were alive just so I could kill you again!" She hit and punched and pulled and stretched at the pillow until it was a rumpled, abused mess. And then she threw it across the room, glaring at it as it hit the wall and slumped to the ground.

She sat there for a moment, just staring at the pillow. Oddly enough, the longer she sat there, simply staring, the better she began to feel. Beating the feathers out of the pillow had been therapeutic. And as she stood up to fetch the poor pillow, she knew that she was going to be alright.

"Sorry," she said with an apologetic smile to the pillow. "Thanks, though. I needed that."

The pillow remained silent, though if it had a voice, it would most likely be moaning in agony. Sakura silently thanked that it didn't have a mind and mouth of its own and began to fluff it back up into some semblance of its former shape. Gently, as if she was treating a patient who had just been bandaged, she put the pillow back down on the bed. Then, she looked over to where she had made a mess with the water and picked up the rag and began to wipe everything dry.

After she finished, she gingerly dropped the washcloth into the bowl as to not make another mess she would have to clean up. Crossing her arms, she closed her eyes and stood in the silence of the room, letting the peace and quiet settle over her like a comforting blanket. The stress that had once belonged to her began to dissipate into nothingness, and when the last painful shred of guilt wavered and faded away, she let out a long, deep, healing sigh that aired out her soul and left it fresh and clean, just like the room was now after she had let out her anger and sadness through therapeutic violence.

Opening her eyes, she took a deep breath and let it out once more before stretching her body, easing her aches and pains.

"I should do this more often," said Sakura, and if the pillow could talk, it would have begun to cry.

A chime went off somewhere in a different room, declaring the hour. Quickly glancing over at her own clock hanging on the wall, she nearly toppled over when she saw that it was already four in the afternoon.

"Oh crap! I'm gonna be late!"

She moved quickly, but as she rushed she was terribly clumsy and she had seemed to lose all sense of direction and intelligence. She had no idea where she had put her extra shirt and as she flung through piles of blankets and sheets, she did not see it hanging over the edge of her bed, quietly waiting for her to pick it up.

Eventually she did find it (it had hidden itself under the blankets Sakura had tossed in her feverish search) and as she pulled it over her head, she was already looking around for a decent pair of warm pants. Spotting them on the far side of the room, she scooted over to where they were and kicked her feet into the legs, stumbling and spinning around as she pulled them up to her waist.

Unfortunately for her, as she struggled to get her arm through it's sleeve and turn her pants around- which she had so lovingly put on backwards- she didn't see the edge of the dresser. She turned, and her foot collided with the corner, freezing her on the spot.

She stood unmoving, her arms still stretched awkwardly over her head, and her shirt in a tangle. Then, the pain registered and she howled, grabbing onto her throbbing pinky toe and hopping around, hissing and throwing curses. Her unbuttoned pants fell down to her knees and locked her in mid hop, sending her falling to the ground in a most disappointing display for a ninja.

From down below stood Hitoshi and Kakashi, the former watching the clock with exasperation. As each minute ticked by, Hitoshi made sure to put a little more space in between him and Kakashi. The frustration was coming off of the jonin in waves.

"I'm sure she's coming," said Hitoshi in a pathetic effort to ease Kakashi.

Kakashi still glared at the clock, watching as the second hand ticked on by, to the ten, to the eleven. On the twelve, Kakashi began tapping his finger on his arm, sighing.

What is taking her so long?

He began to move to go and fetch her, anxious to leave, when he heard noises from above. He stopped, curiously looking at the ceiling, the lamp above flickering from movement.

"Eh?" Hitoshi was looking up as well, watching the small hanging light jiggle. "What's goin' on up there?"

"I don't know-"

There was a thump, and a muffled scream came from above followed by continuous bumps of noise. Then, there was a vibrating crash, causing the lamp to shake wildly above.

Hitoshi had flinched at each sound and was now recovering from the last one. Glancing over at Kakashi, both of them shared a moment of confusion followed by discreet curiosity.

"What's she doin' up there?" asked Hitoshi, now listening as the sounds continued, albeit each step Sakura took sounded like a limp.

"I'm not sure," answered Kakashi after a moment. He did, however, think that whatever she was doing, if he had seen, he guessed he would have burst out with laughter.


Hitoshi looked over, unable to describe the new look that was in his friend's eye. "Kakashi?"

Kakashi didn't answer. Instead, he stood there for a moment more, watching the lamp move slightly with each new step, before he departed, quietly going up the stairs. Hitoshi watched him leave, finally having an inkling as to what was most likely going through Kakashi's mind.

Her pride almost hurt more than her toe. Almost. Sakura cast her offending pinky toe a scathing glare before she continued her so far disastrous chore of getting ready for the day. She didn't dare begin to think of what the rest of her day was going to be like.

"Did I break a mirror? Is there a black cat in this house I'm not aware of?" Sakura grumbled to herself as she angrily shifted through the mess of blankets she had made. "Whatever it is, it's crap and I hate it."

Sakura exclaimed a cry of victory, and pulled out a pair of socks from the mess. She grinned happily, the small beacon of hope that her day wasn't going to be that bad shinning brightly.

"I'm not going to let some stupid bad luck ruin my day!" she declared with a puff of her chest, which was odd to see on her when she was wearing her shirt like a necklace and her pants threatened to fall off completely.

Quickly, she set about properly dressing, pulling her shirt over her head and buttoning her pants. She unfolded her socks and hopped on one foot, trying to pull it on. Unfortunately, she began to have more issues and kept missing.

"Work with me here!" she huffed, balancing precariously on her injured foot. As she began to tip, she quickly hopped to the side to readjust.

One misplaced step and she slipped, flying into the air and landing on her back, knocking the wind out of her. She wheezed, one sock on her foot and the other on her head. As she gathered her breath, she struggled to sit up, quickly put the sock on, and collapsed back onto the ground, aching all over.

"I'm either getting too old or there is something wrong with me."

"You're tired," said Kakashi, suddenly in the room and looking at Sakura with controlled laughter.

Sakura managed to look up at her offender, and when she saw him, she had the decency to be embarrassed beyond words. She was, however, simply too tired to care, so she resigned to lie on her back and let him laugh at her as much as he wanted.

"Go ahead," she said with a tired wave of her hand, "go ahead and laugh while I ache and bruise because I'm an idiot. Although I should count my blessings that only you saw that. If Naruto was here…" She could not stop herself from shuddering at the thought of him tormenting her for the rest of her days.

She could have sworn she heard Kakashi choke back a chuckle, but the laughter never came. Instead- and Sakura was surprised beyond words- Kakashi came over knelt down next to her. He gave her a look, one that did reveal he was laughing at her inwardly, before he reached out and sat her up.

"Are you alright?" he asked, his voice laced with humor.

Sakura wasn't sure what to do: kill him or kiss him. Either option sounded tempting. In the end, she gave up and did nothing. Her head hurt too much to care.

"Yes, I'm fine, although my pride is in tatters." She looked sadly around her at the invisible shreds of her dignity, knowing full well that there was no way she was going to be able to repair it. She looked back up to him, and saw that he had been staring at her. So, she returned the stare, curious.


Kakashi stared at her for a moment more before pulling Sakura to her feet. She wavered for a moment, and she felt with a fluttering sense of joy that he was there to support her when she stumbled. She regained her steps after the blood rush faded and her world stopped spinning. She let out a long, low sigh and held a hand to her head, feeling her embarrassment slowly return.

"I don't think I've ever been this pathetic before."

"Just what exactly made you act like this?" asked Kakashi, not hiding his puzzlement. "For you, this is… rather shameful."

Sakura blushed again, and she had to look away from him, his forwardness not only attacking her pride, but the small, fleshy muscle of her heart. "I…" she started with a stutter, feeling even stupider. "I… didn't want to be late," she finished lamely, casting a sheepish look his way. "I guess that plan didn't work out too well, did it?"

Kakashi looked at her strangely, a hidden emotion in his eyes that made Sakura confused. She instinctively became defensive at his silence and grew offended.

"There's no need to look at me like I'm sick in the head," she huffed, "so I'll thank you to stop staring at me like that."

Sakura's words seemed to have an effect on him, and he suddenly frowned at her. "Is that what you think?"

Sakura faltered and she grew uncomfortable, dodging Kakashi's now stern gaze. "Well, I just assumed…" She trailed off, a memory niggling at the back of her brain before burrowing it's way into the forefront of her mind. With a guilty slump of her shoulders, she peered up through her eyebrows. If she had been a dog, her ears would be low with shame.

"I wouldn't… happen to be 'jumping the gun' again, would I?"

"I'm glad to see you're learning," said Kakashi, his voice slightly bitter. His annoyance, however, did pass and he set a reassuring hand on her shoulder. He did not say anything, and he didn't have to. Sakura could feel that she had been forgiven.

"I'm sorry," she said anyway.

She could see that Kakashi was having issues with stopping himself from sighing in exasperation. She gave him a timid grin, and that was when he did sigh before letting go of Sakura.

"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked once again.

She nodded. "Of course I am." She straightened her back and lifted her chin at him, daring him to contradict her. It was nearly comical, seeing a rather slim girl take on a not-so-slim and rather strong-and-tall man who clearly had the distinct advantage of height.

Stranger still, the girl won.

Kakashi shook his head slightly, and Sakura grinned in victory. With a wave of his hand, he asked her to hurry up and get dressed- adding quickly that she be careful that time- and left the room. When he left, Sakura quickly set about to finishing getting ready. After sliding on her boots and throwing on her coat, she quickly swept out of the room, returning only briefly to flip off the lights.

It was cold, almost too cold. Sakura wrapped her scarf tightly around her, sniffing as the bitter winter weather bit her nose. She glanced over at Kakashi, frowning with jealousy and irritation when she saw him look unfazed by the sharp winds that threatened to freeze her through and through. Then again, he was a rather strong nin and she shouldn't be surprised, especially after all they had been through.

Briefly she felt a pang of fear in her heart followed by the remains of an insane cackle that still haunted her dreams. She shivered and drew her coat closer to her; she would always carry those dark, frightening memories with her until she died. Through time and patience would it be easier to bear, but her scars… they would be permanent reminders she would never ignore, even if she wanted to.

A particularly frosty wind whipped sideways and then turned around and blew her right in her face. It burned her skin and she took in a sharp breath. Immediately, pain flashed in her chest and she choked, halting in her steps.

Kakashi sensed the trouble at once and turned around. "Sakura?" He approached her as her breathing started to return to normal. His eyes narrowed when he saw the echoes of pain flee from her face and he was once again reminded of what June had said earlier.

She hadn't let June heal her…


Sakura let in another hesitant breath before deciding that the pain had passed. She straightened slowly only to nearly bump noses with Kakashi who was leaning over her and pinning her with an almost hostile look. Almost instantly the instinct to flee danced in her legs. She gave him a nervous grin followed by a pathetic laugh.

"Ah- yes, Kakashi?"

Kakashi was unfazed. "There's something wrong with you."

"Well, that is just rude. There is most certainly nothing wrong with me."

"Really? Tell me that while looking at me."

"Fine. There's nothing wrong with me."

"Don't look at my ear. Look at me."

Sakura flinched and slowly she met his eyes. They regarded each other silently, each staring the other down as the world continued on without them. Kakashi's resolve was strong; he wouldn't let her get away so easily.

"Sakura, I'm waiting."

"I know," she said, irritated, but then the moment passed and her resolve broke. Her mouth opened, but all that came out was a sputtered breath. Another brief second and she still couldn't form the words. Her eyes flickered away and she stared down at the ground guiltily. She could feel his quiet satisfaction without even having to look.

"You need June to go and look at you, Sakura."

"She can't help me," said Sakura, looking back up at him, no longer held back by lies. "The only one that can help me is Tsunade." She walked past him and towards the shops. "The sooner we get this shopping done, the sooner we leave, and the sooner we leave, the sooner we can both get proper medical treatment."

Kakashi was already following her, but this new information made him slightly unsettled. "How bad is it?"

"Bad enough," grumbled Sakura, not really enjoying the fact she was admitting the same exact thing she had been trying to deny since she had received the injury. She sounded angry and a part of her felt that anger as well, but the worst part of it all was the fear that nestled itself right on top of the strange wound inside her chest. Just like any other human being, she preferred not to address the monster in the closet or the demon under the bed. Denying it was so much easier.

"Sakura." Kakashi was not deterred. "A proper answer would speed things along a lot nicer."

She stuck her lip out at him; denial apparently wasn't his thing. "I already told you. It's bad enough. Just let me deal with it, okay? I am the medic nin."

Kakashi stopped and Sakura stumbled to a halt, eyes narrowing slightly with confusion.


Kakashi quietly stared at Sakura, his thoughts drifting to and fro in the dark secret parts of his mind. Sakura remembered similar moments like these and they were created on both their parts. She crossed her arms.

"Are you trying to dissect my mind with your eyes?"

"No," he said, "I was just thinking."

"About what?"

A short moment, and then he shrugged and they began to walk once more. "I think I may be rubbing off of you."

Sakura snorted. "You think? We've only been together for nearly a year."

Kakashi had the decency to chuckle. "You have a point there."

"What made you think of this all of a sudden?"

Kakashi shrugged again. "Your words. Always trying to avoid the inevitable. I've been told that so many times." He chuckled again as his words made Sakura eyes widen with realization and fear.

"W-wait, Kakashi, hold on! I-I don't-!"

He moved too quickly. He appeared behind her, grabbed her arms, and slowly he forced her to the ground, Sakura straining as she tried to fight his strong grip.

"Now," said Kakashi again, his voice smooth and pleasant, smiling while Sakura cussed and spat and cussed some more, "you are going to give me a proper answer. How bad is your injury?"

Her reply was inappropriate and the parts that weren't laced with fury were useless to him. He sighed. "Sakura, you're being childish. Just tell me the extent of your injury. I need to make sure what precautions to take in the future." Her thrashing dwindled and he eased his grip slightly. "Well?"

Sakura's head hung low and he couldn't see her expression. He bent a little closer, hoping to read some of the invisible vibes that were coming off of her from underneath the veil of pink-

"I'll tell you," she said suddenly, "but not now."

Kakashi frowned. This wasn't an answer he was used to accepting. He told her so.

"I won't accept that."

"But you're going to have to," retorted Sakura quite bluntly, "because you're not going to get it out of me." She turned her head towards him, a defiant twinkle in her eyes. "I'm allowed to have my secrets, Kakashi."

"Not from me you aren't."

She blanched. "What is that supposed to mean?"

He did not give her a proper answer. "Are you completely set on keeping this from me?"

"Yes," she said boldly, "I am."

Something inside of him seemed to snap at this horrible piece of truth she just shoved in his face, but just as always he smoothed it over with indifference even though she could still see the slight anger from within. He released her and she quickly stumbled and fumbled her way into a proper standing position, straightening her clothes as fast as she could, trying to ignore the curious glances from people passing by.

"Geez, Kakashi, did you really have to do that?"

He didn't reply. He was already walking.

"Let's go, Sakura. We're wasting time."

Sakura gaped at him for a fraction of a second before crossing her arms and glaring ever so slightly at him.

I didn't hurt his feeling that badly… did I?

She frowned deeper. Whatever, she shouldn't be feeling bad about this. She would tell him in time. There was no need to discuss the unknown until she reached Tsunade and had a proper examination.

Besides, she thought quietly as she followed Kakashi as silent as a shadow, it's not something I really want to talk about.

Her breathing hitched as if to underline her dark thoughts.

Yeah, I'd rather just ignore it.

It wasn't exactly what a medic nin's train of thought should have been, but who could judge her unless they had the power to jump into her skull and weed out all of her bad-ninja-thoughts-of-negligence. No, those were her little seeds of sin that she was quite content in planting and watching grow.

My evil flower of consequence.

Her breathing stumbled again.

Mine to hide.

They didn't buy many supplies, just a week's worth of things. After an hour of outdoor shopping, Sakura suggested casually that they go to the Bronze Kettle and get something to drink.

"I can't feel my nose and I think I've frozen myself a snotty mustache."

Kakashi agreed with her 'casual request', that a little hot brew wouldn't do them harm and then they both turned their steps towards the small pub. Of course on the way Kakashi couldn't help but drop the slyest of hints, ever so often casting his eyes towards a very familiar alley and an equally similar wall. Sakura, being the observant girl she was, immediately caught on and she felt her back freeze. Of course this was impossible; she was wearing layer upon layer of dead animal skin. That didn't mean her brain couldn't recall memories of frozen stone rubbing against her skin.

"Don't get any ideas," grumbled Sakura, her cheeks now on fire.

"Ideas? Whatever do you mean, Sakura?"

"Oooh, you are so lucky we're in public or I'd-"

"That didn't stop you last time."

Sakura really truly was extremely close to punching him in the back of the head- a very Naruto-ish punishment- but the hot, spicy scent of cider was just too wonderful and her anger evaporated being quickly replaced by the familiar sensation known as thirst.

"Welcome to the Bronze Kettle!" greeted a spunky, young waitress. "Take any table you want!"

"Oh, what wonderful memories…" Sakura glared at him dryly, knowing his mind was still sitting very comfortably in the gutter. He merely smiled at her and signaled the waitress, raising two fingers. The waitress nodded, promised them she'd get their hot ciders in a few minutes, and then she disappeared into the kitchen while Sakura practically melted in her chair at the thought of having a hot drink. As she sat, it gave Kakashi ample amount of time to look at her.

She was smiling happily, anxious for her order. He examined her quietly, his eyes following every scar, every curve, noting each and every one of them. He wondered what dark night gave her the thin line above her brow, or what drunken guard decided to slice his knife across her cheek. To others, such marks would be ugly, or perhaps they would bring fear. Other people would call them trophies and display them proudly. In his eyes, they were merely another feature, like her nose, or her ear. They blended into her, became part of her, and when he had finished seeing and pondering over each one, he lost interest. Staring at a nose or an ear for an extended amount of time would do that to any normal person.

It was then he realized that she was doing more than relaxing; she was staring into space, probably lost in some no nonsense daydream. Shifting slightly as he leaned his elbow against the back of the seat, scratching his head, he decided to break the silence.

"It's strange, finally going home."

"Huh?" Sakura was dragged out of her happy fantasy of singing cider mugs rather abruptly. "What is it that you said?" She gave him a sheepish grin. "Sorry, I just really want something to drink."

He sighed at her, but he felt a smile twitch on the corners of his mouth. "I said it's strange now that we're finally going home."

"Oh. Yeah," she nodded in agreement, "it is. But of course I'm happy that we are." She sighed, a happy smile on her face. "I can't wait to go and talk to Naruto. I wonder if he's already proposed to Hinata?" She laughed softly. "Knowing him he's either been too embarrassed to do it or he rushed right in and shoved the ring right into her face." She laughed a little louder this time. "I hope Ino is doing well, along with all the others." She sighed a little. "And I really, really hope Tsunade-sensei isn't too angry with me."

"She'll understand," said Kakashi. "There are some things you can't help."

"I know, but still." She traced the table absentmindedly with her finger, following the grain of the wood. "I'm also worried about my house. I hope everything is fine."


Sakura looked up. "Hm, what?"


"I said, hm, what?"

"Oh." He shrugged. "I was just thinking."


"My secret, not yours," he said teasingly.

She pouted now. "Oh hah hah, very funny."

"It is."

"No, it's not!" She gave him the sweetest look she could muster. "C'mon, tell me." Her eyes grew big and puppydogish. "Pwease?"

It didn't affect Kakashi in the way she had hoped. All he looked was embarrassed for her. "And I had thought you had matured a little."

"I have!" exclaimed Sakura, offended. "That hasn't affected my curiosity though!"

Kakashi shook his head, a slight smile on his face. "I'll tell you eventually."

Sakura crossed her arms and pouted some more. "You're cruel," she grumbled, and then her eyes lit up and she exclaimed happily as two mugs were set before them. Sakura greedily took hers and, halting only slightly to blow on the steaming drink, put her lips to the cup and drank.

"Oh yeah!" she gasped as she set down the now half-empty mug. "That's the good stuff!"

Kakashi didn't feel like bringing up their previous conversation and instead agreed. "Yes, it is good."

"No, it's the best."

"Alright, it's the best."

Sakura grinned, pleased. "Thank you."

He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at her and instead focused his gaze on the window. It was fogged up around the edges, but from what he could tell, not even winter slowed down the town, it's streets still swarmed with life. Maybe it was because the economy was trying to make up for time lost during the flood, or maybe it had always been like this. Either way, seeing everyone moving to somewhere made his own legs itch to leave. He rarely felt homesick- for a jounin to feel homesick is like being a doctor who is afraid of needles; it just doesn't work out with one's profession. However, he had been through too much for too long, and finally he allowed himself to feel the smallest of aches of longing.

I think I even miss that ramen head-filled fool…

Sakura sighed heavily, and before she spoke, he already knew her thoughts were very similar to his.

"Kakashi… I really want to go home."

"I know. So do I."

Her eyes focused on her mug, her expression timid. "But I'm also a little afraid."

"Afraid?" He pulled his attention away from the window. "Afraid of what?"

She didn't respond and merely played with the steam wafting from her mug.


She sighed again. "Do you think that…" She trailed off, her eyes softening slightly as her fingers slowly stopped twirling in the steam. Eventually she closed them, smiling slightly and chuckling. "Never mind. It's stupid."

He couldn't help but feel a bit put-off by her obvious discomfort. He waited for her to change her mind, but she remained silent, her green eyes staring far beyond the edge of her mug into a place where thoughts were little whispers that drifted by like clouds. He didn't want that silence, he wanted answers, and an hour and three refills later, his patience ran out.


She stood up abruptly, stretching her hands high above her head. "Hey, we should get going, yeah? It's going to be dark soon." She gestured towards the now golden-colored window, the frost on the glass scattering the light in a soft, warm halo across the room. Kakashi was fully aware of the time, but he didn't very much like being left hanging like he was at that very moment, feebly trying to piece together the rest of her thoughts on his own.

She was already at the door. "You comin'?"

He gave her a sharp look, but the innocent smile she gave him killed any or all thoughts of forcefully obtaining what information he wanted from her. He stood up reluctantly, tossing a tip onto the table.

"Looks like."

"I know that the recipe calls for teriyaki, but I've always been a fan of fish oil and I make sure to add just enough to get that salty flavor." Akane smiled at Kakashi as she measured out the oil, speaking to him as if sharing a carefully guarded secret- even though she knew he wasn't paying any attention to her little cooking lesson. "Personally, I think it accents the beef well. But not too much oil! You don't want to overpower the flavor of the meat."

Kakashi did his best to ignore the answering growl of his starved stomach when the sauce sizzled in the pan by focusing on his report to Tsunade, but when he did that, he wanted to focus on the food instead of the intimidating jumble of incidents that were piling up by the minute. It was hard to pick which torture he had to endure.

Why must I always be tormented like this?

Akane began to add the sliced carrots. "Is Sakura still busy with her report as well?"


"Do you always have to do those things?"

"Yes. We must keep careful track of our missions. The reasons are numerous and most are classified." He sighed as he scribbled down another torture he had endured during his imprisonment. "It's a pain, but a necessary pain."

"Hm, sounds boring."

"I said it was necessary. I didn't say it was fun."

She laughed. "Of course, of course. My apologies." Akane reached into a nearby cupboard and threw in a dash of something. "Dinner will be done soon, Kakashi. I just have to finish this up and fry up the rest of the vegetables."

"I wish you wouldn't go through all this trouble…" She didn't hear him of course, and even if she did, it wouldn't have made a difference. Akane and Hitoshi were determined to send him and Sakura off with full stomachs. If he had any say in things, he probably would have left that night, even though morning was a wiser choice.

I want to go home. I want to go home, sleep, maybe eat a little, and sleep some more.

Never mind the fact that there was a few other reasons why he wanted to go home, Sakura related reasons, but at that moment, the thought of sleeping in his own bed came before everything else, especially the discussion he and Sakura would inevitably have. Yes, he desired his bed above all else.

Although, he thought after catching a whiff of what that 'something spice' had done to Akane's cooking, it wouldn't hurt to have another hot meal before we leave.

Sakura was lying down on her bed, staring up at the ceiling, her completed report beside her. She let out a long, heavy sigh, closing her eyes, flinging her pencil to the side, relieved beyond words to have it out of her possession. She curled up on her side, reaching above her and grabbing her pillow, clutching it to her chest, snuggling into its softness.

"One more night… one more night and I'll finally be in my own bed."

The thought suddenly brought tears to her eyes. Stunned, she wiped them away and stared at them for a moment. Then, a smile stretched across her lips and she laughed at the absurdity of it all. After all she had gone through, such a simple desire shouldn't have affected her so.

Yet it did, and the more she thought about her small apartment, her friends, even the stern looks Tsunade would give her when she made a particularly unfortunate slip up concerning a needle-fearing patient, the more her heart seemed to swell until she was nearly sobbing into her pillow with disbelief.

"Home… home…" Over and over she repeated the words in her mind, as if they were a magical enchantment that would whisk her away at that very moment. It was no longer a dream, a hope that only glimmered slightly in the face of death. It was real; she was going home.

With Kakashi.

Kakashi… The swelling became an ache and a torrent of confused emotions burst forth. Where words could usually describe such an emotion, for her it remained in the form of colors and incoherent sentences that babbled on and on within her spiraling mind. Some of it hurt, and some of it was so beautiful, she couldn't help but smile. Most of all, it was confusing, which was why every time she came close to talking to him about it, the words would die on her tongue and fade away into silence, gone but not forgotten.

She knew he wanted to talk about it. That, and the other thing that only troubled her when she moved around too much. Thinking about made her consciously aware of the very subtle change in her breathing, the slight pressure on her chest. The moment she had been stabbed so brutally and received the sub-par treatment Vighan tossed her, she knew that there was nothing that she could do about it. Perhaps a few months ago, she would have been fine- if Tsunade was there and prepared for a full out surgery. Now it was a permanent wound, her evil little flower, as she called it. And she knew that when Tsunade found out, she would be angry, and perhaps disappointed. Maybe even sad, for there was only one fate for a kunoichi with a crippled lung.

Not even the thought of being forced into a desk for the rest of her life could stand up against the inevitable wrath she would face from her former sensei. She could see the whole incident happen right in front of her eyes, how he would tower over her, lightning striking around him as he called her stupid and senseless and would question her promotion to jounin. And she would reply, as her face hit the floor, arms out before her, that she was stupid, she was senseless, and as for being a jounin… Maybe she would ask Tsunade after she put on her own spontaneous Thunderstorm of Doom.

She groaned, shoving her face into her pillow. She would do anything to get back to Konoha, but once she got there, she knew that she would probably want to turn tail and head right back out. There were many issues waiting for her in the village, most of which would probably be the butt of many jokes or strings of gossip. Of course she chose to ignore such gossip most of the time, but it didn't change the fact that it irritated her to the core, leaving her wanting to bring mass destruction to otherwise innocent people.

"They can't help but be stupid," Sakura told herself in muffled, chiding tones. "They don't even know it, so you cannot kill them."

It was a shame really, having morals and codes of honor and whatnot. It kept her from doing the things she really wanted to do.

Finding it difficult to breathe with the pillow shoved so firmly in her face, she turned away to get some air. Instantly, her mouth began to salivate as she smelled the wonder known as Akane's cooking. Nearly floating on air, she fluidly moved off the bed, glided to the door, and dazedly went down the stairs, the ravenous growls of her stomach hypnotizing.

"Well, well, well, look who decided to join us." Akane was pushing some stir fry into some bowls of rice, her generous bosom covered in a frilly apron. "Have a seat at the table girl and I'll get you served."

The command was broken down into simple words, and so her brain told her 'sit table' and she turned, coming face to face with Kakashi. His presence was not allowed in Simple Thought Land, so the world became intelligent once more, and her hunger was no longer hypnotizing, but almost painful. She winced as her stomach grumbled, her face going red at the slight raise of his eyebrow.

"Kakashi!" she laughed with embarrassment, taking a seat across from him and sitting down quickly. "Well… Ah hah… Oh, did you finish your report?"

He smiled at her obvious change of topic, but he allowed the incident to pass. "No, not yet, but I am almost done. What about yours?" Again, the nervous laughter, but this time he wasn't going to let this one pass. "You are going to finish it tonight, right?"

"Yes, I will! Cut me some slack, will you?" She pat her stomach. "I just needed a bit of food first. I cannot work on an empty stomach!"

"Hmmm…" An unconvinced reply, which granted him a nasty wrinkling of her nose.

"Sakura's right, Kakashi. You really need to take a break! Here." She placed two steaming bowls of food before them and handed them chopsticks. "Eat to your hearts content."

Sakura grabbed the utensils with a lightning fast snap of her hand. "You don't have to ask me twice!" With an appreciation and love for food that would make Naruto proud, she dove in, shoving food into her mouth in a greedy pace. Kakashi smoothly took his chopsticks, thanked Akane, and ate slowly, not envying the stomach ache he knew his beautiful pink-haired friend was going to get.

Sure enough, by the time she was done, Sakura was caught between bliss and agony. With a groan, she slowly sank forward, her forehead hitting the table. Hitoshi, who had joined them a few minutes after they had received their bowls, clicked his tongue against his cheek at Sakura's deteriorating composure.

"Not the first time I've seen someone like this after they ate my blossom's food." He laughed. "It's just too darn good!"

Kakashi, his food finished, looked down at the groaning Sakura with a sigh. He stood up out of his chair. "Well, I suppose I better get her to bed then."

"No," Sakura moaned. "Let me die here…"

Apparently Kakashi decided that her time wasn't then and defied her orders by taking her by the arm and helping her out of her chair. When she got up, she slumped against him, letting out a burp before mumbling, "Thank you for dinner, Akane."

"Of course, honey. Now, get a move on. Sleep will do you some good."

Kakashi gave his own thanks and then led Sakura up the stairs. When they got to her door and he moved to bid her goodnight, he found that he could not remove his hand.

Sakura, her thin fingers wrapped around his wrist, was staring down at the ground, her bangs covering her face. "Kakashi…" Her words came out as a murmur, hesitant and quiet, like the beginning of a gentle spring breeze. Her grip squeezed, and then she looked up at him shyly, the silent question speaking loudly to him as he stared into her flushed face.

When it came to Sakura, nothing made sense. When he thought he made some discovery, she would turn around and his truth would fall away, fine sand sliding through the cracks between his fingers. When it came to Sakura, he became fully aware that he was a man, and desire was a large part of that. Even then, the sweet smell that was her was tickling at the edge of his nose. If he stepped a little closer, moved his arms a little more, he would be surrounded by her and the ache within him would ease a little more.

Yet, even when she looked at him with such longing, he knew that this wasn't the place or the time. Even when they were in the alley, so close to doing what he knew they both wanted, fate reminded him that they were still ninja, still parts of a whole that needed completion. Wants needed to wait, and as the disappointment began to fill her gaze, he knew that his own regret was much more clear than he desired it to be.

Her hand fell away from his, and the instinct to reach for her again was only stopped because she started to talk. "Alright, I understand… Yeah, maybe we should wait."

She knew it too. She was a smart woman after all. But that didn't change how sad she looked at that moment, how rejected she appeared to be. It made him uncomfortable knowing it was he who had made her so ashamed, especially knowing that he had wanted the same thing as she did.

He needed to make things right for her. This wasn't a want. It was a need. He needed to make her right, to smooth out her wrinkles, to make her happy. It was like taking in that next breath of fresh air to keep him living. It was so peculiar, the slow discovery of this separate entity living half of his life, like a vital organ he could talk to. The experience was raw and a tad startling, but like any other curious individual, he sought to know a little more by entertaining the new thought he was having.

"Perhaps," he said slowly, startling Sakura, "I could… watch over you? But I would require a bed. Your room only has one, doesn't it…?"

Sakura was obviously confused, but the moment she caught the slight twinkle in his dark eyes, the almost too casual way he spoke, she seamlessly slipped into the act, shrugging slightly.

"Yeah, I only have one. But, if you're only, you know, keeping an eye on me… I suppose we could… I don't know, share the bed, but only because you're making sure I'm okay."

"Of course. It's purely platonic."


They were putting on a show for themselves, and they both knew it, but it gave them peace of mind. So, with a calm that was hovering just above a nervousness that somehow stayed in check, Kakashi shut the door behind them. True to his word, he watched over her… But he did so with his bare arms wrapped around her naked torso, his fingers tracing the scars on her skin. He made sure she was safe and slept soundly while their legs were tangled together underneath the sheets, caressing them. Eventually, he too fell asleep, his chin resting atop her head, their hearts beating in tandem.

It wasn't what he wanted… at least, not all of it. But it was damn near close, and that was enough then. This was the last thought he had before his thoughts faded into shadow and he fell asleep.

Once again, they stood at the entrance to the town, only this time almost all of it's residents were there with them, waiting to give their goodbyes. Most of the faces she didn't know, some where recognizable, but all she loved. Kakashi, dressed for travel, mask back in place, wasn't one for warm goodbyes, but he did nod to those in thanks as they wished him luck and good fortune.

Saying goodbye to June was heart-wrenching. The woman, with a bandage over her head, hugged Sakura tightly, gave her a bundle of dried fruit, and then burst into a batch of fresh tears as she hugged her again. Sakura did her best to keep from crying, but it was like trying to stop a dam with a wall of pillows.

At the front of the crowd stood Hitoshi and Akane, travel packs in their hands. Akane, bottom lip trembling, gave Sakura the pack, and then gathered her into her arms and nearly suffocated the poor girl. Hitoshi merely shook hands with Kakashi, a silent conversation shared between the men with just the slightest of smiles, but when Sakura was finally freed, Hitoshi nearly crushed the girl's back with his giant hug. Not even Kakashi had been able to escape Akane's grasp, although his experience was far less traumatizing. Finally, when the small group recovered- the recovery mostly on Sakura's half- they faced each other one last time.

"Well," rasped out Hitoshi before he cleared his throat and started again. "Well, I suppose it's time you get going."

Kakashi nodded. "Yes. We have been gone from our home for far too long."

"Visit us again, alright?" said Akane, her lush, red lips still trembling with suppressed tears. "We want to know how you two are doing!"

"Of course we'll visit." The ache in Sakura's heart was strong, but the call of her home was stronger. "We'll miss you too much! But…" She glanced down at the road. "We really do need to get going…"

The couple nodded and then stepped aside to let Kakashi and Sakura pass. As they began to walk away, the cheers and cries of the people of River's Bend followed them. Kakashi remained stoic and calm, but the girl beside him was antsy and fidgety. He sighed, the smallest of laughs escaping with his words.

"Go ahead."

The cheers increased, laughter dancing in the air as Sakura spun around and waved her hand wildly in the air. "Goodbye!" She cried out, her green eyes shimmering. "We'll miss you!"

And so, the duo left River's Bend for the final time.


[Looks at the eyes of murder] ...I know. I know. I'm a horrible person. How dare I put this story on hiatus?! Well I dared because… Well because I suck. There. I said it. [Waits to accept her rightful punishment].

The first half was written… what, two years ago? And the other half was written last night. I wonder if you readers can tell the difference? I certainly can. Not so sure that's a good thing… At any rate, any old readers will probably have to go back and re-read some things to understand what's going on. I know I had to. Ugh, my horribleness just keeps asserting itself.

So! I'm going to finish this first, and then I'm going to go back over the whole story and edit it because it needs it. These final chapters (TWO, including an epilogue) should come easily. All it is going to be is romance. Yup, finally, right?

Oh man… I cannot apologize enough. But I shall try! Sorry sorry sorry sorry… [Continues to babble].

See you soon- swearsies!