Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or the characters contained therein, they belong to Masashi Kishimoto who is kind enough to let fans write fiction. I make no profit from this nor do I intend to.
A/N: Well, it's finally done. There are a lot of people who have helped me over the years and I'd like to say thank you to everyone. All those who have helped me along the way as well as everyone who has been reading (reviewing and faving greatly appreciated as it kept me going through some rough patches) and (of course) anyone still out there hoping that this would some day finally be completed. Many, many, many thanks to FlameTwirler who first encouraged me to post back in 2007 and Fatpuppy and ALifestyleChoice who helped me out at the beginning. Super huge thanks to AvidReaderAlso who beta'd (and alpha'd) the vast majority of this fic. Mega huge thanks to ivegotpurple and moderndayportia for their help with this final chapter. It was a beast and I'm so glad it's finally done. You ladies seriously are the only reason this chapter is finally getting posted. THANK YOU! I'm sure there is a lot more I should or could write here but doubt anyone has read this far. So I'll just say one more, Thank you everyone!
Chapter Thirty-Four: Foregone Conclusion
Kakashi groggily felt himself tugged from the world of sleep – all too soon, to his exhausted mind. With a grunt, he tried to ignore the fact that something wanted him awake. After a few moments of struggle, he gave up and opened his eye to take in the unfamiliar ceiling.
Panic set in as he realized where he was and remembered what was happening. Kakashi sat up quickly, trying to recall what had happened; the recent past seemed to be one huge, agonizing blur. A chuckle disturbed his frightened thoughts, and he turned sharply to face the sound.
"I was wondering when you'd wake up." Tsunade quirked a tired smile at Kakashi before continuing, "I didn't realize how exhausted you were when I got here… You collapsed and have been dead to the world for the past two days. You shouldn't try and fight the aftereffects of a soldier pill for so long – only makes them worse, you know." Her scolding was somewhat compromised by the fact that she clearly had to stifle a yawn herself.
Among all the panic and anxiety boiling inside him, one emotionally charged word burned brightest.
Tsunade laughed tiredly and gestured to the bed beside him.
Kakashi followed her gaze and found Sakura stretched out next to him, sleeping peacefully. Some of the color seemed to have returned to her cheeks, and she was breathing deeply and evenly – a vast improvement from the last time he'd laid eyes on her.
"We didn't think that it would be a good idea to move you too far from her without talking to you about it first," Tsunade answered Kakashi's unasked question with more than a little amusement and another yawn. Images of a groggy, frantic Copy Ninja thrashing around, trying to find Sakura came to her mind, but she quickly dismissed them.
Kakashi decided to ignore Tsunade's teasing and concentrate on more important things.
"How is she? Is she… Is she...?" He couldn't bring himself to finish the question, but knew that Tsunade would understand.
Her heart went out to him – clearly, he'd been through enough, and as much as she wanted to either gloat or tease him, she couldn't quite bring herself to do so… yet.
"Well... I think she is past the worst of it now, but she isn't quite out of the woods yet." Tsunade covered yet another yawn, letting on just how tired she was. "Sakura was a mess when I got here–," she eyed the groggy silver haired man, "–and so were you for that matter. What'd you do to her?"
"Soldier pill," he mumbled as he stretched his stiff neck. "I got a little desperate… And as you guessed, I took one too. Fought the aftereffects for… maybe a couple days 'till you showed up – couldn't pass out without knowing she was in good hands."
Tsunade nodded, having expected to hear as much. It had been a risky move on Kakashi's part, but one that had paid off immensely. Because of that pill, Sakura had been given enough strength to survive long enough for help to arrive. Granted, Sakura was now suffering the consequences of using the soldier pill, exacerbated by her weakened state, but it was more than worth it in Tsunade's opinion.
"Ah, that would explain it."
With his fear for Sakura momentarily assuaged, Kakashi realized just what it was that had pulled him from sleep. Awkwardly, he shifted himself out of the bed, loath to leave Sakura but still feeling the pressing need to answer a call of nature that could no longer be ignored. Even though he knew that she was safe with the Hokage watching over her, he couldn't help but worry. He'd spent the past few weeks focused entirely on Sakura's safety. Stopping now was almost impossible.
Tsunade said nothing but watched as Kakashi unsteadily made his way to the adjoining bathroom. She knew that he had come within mere millimeters of losing Sakura. Even without the added side effects of a soldier pill, the poor man was sure to be totally drained. He'd been through a series of horrific ordeals trying to save Sakura, and deserved a bit of a break as far as she was concerned.
While she waited, Tsunade's mind went over what had happened. She'd given Kakashi two weeks to rescue Sakura, though she'd actually not been able to wait that long. She had sent people after him only a few days after she had received word of where Sakura was being held captive.
That particular mission had gone better than planned. When the shinobi arrived, the bandits had been regrouping after some sort of internal squabble. Consequently, resistance had been minimal. The bandits had lost nearly all of their fighting force. Those who remained were, for the most part, either the severely injured or administrative personnel who weren't deemed important enough to kill by the bandits.
The extraction team burned the whole place down to the ground, taking only a handful of prisoners, mostly of the administrative variety, since they'd been wise enough to surrender immediately without a fight. As far as Tsunade could tell from the reports, the prisoners they did take had only been with the bandits for the paycheck, or because they'd been captured themselves and had nowhere else to go. None seemed to actually be interested in living the bandit lifestyle.
After hearing from the hotel manageress what little Kakashi had told her about their ordeal, Tsunade had been glad that the extraction team had done such a thorough job of crushing the bandit operation. The extraction team had left the compound in rubble, and there was no way anyone would be starting up that particular operation any time in the near future, or – more likely – ever again.
Absently, Tsunade mused that the brutal treatment of not only the bandits themselves, but their compound as well, probably had something to do with the fact that Sakura had had a hand in healing nearly every shinobi on the extraction team at least once in her short, but already prolific, career.
Once what was left of the bandits had been dealt with, the extraction team had sent news to Tsunade regarding Sakura and Kakashi – namely that the pair in question had fled during the confusion of the fighting. The extraction team hadn't been certain if it was the truth, but thought that they should pass it on to their Hokage, as one of the prisoners kept insisting that he had helped them flee. Around that time, Tsunade had also received news from Kakashi. He had been successful in rescuing Sakura from the kidnappers, but she was very, very ill and needed serious medical help as soon as possible.
Upon reading this ominous news, the Hokage hadn't even stopped to think before shouting interim orders to Shizune and grabbing her travel medic kit. She was out the window, calling on her fastest summon, before her assistant could even think to protest.
The few days of mixed traveling (via slug, jutsu, and chakra enhanced running) had flown by in a panicked blur, until Tsunade finally reached the little, nondescript village on the border of Rain. That Kakashi likely hadn't asked for her to personally come to see to Sakura had never even entered her mind; which was lucky, considering how badly off Sakura was when Tsunade arrived. As far as the blonde medic could tell, it was unlikely that anyone aside from herself would have been able to do what was necessary to save Sakura.
Tsunade's timing had been good, as a few of the shinobi initially sent to deal with the bandits – having come to the same conclusion as Kakashi about the best place to take an ailing kunoichi – also arrived in the small border village at the same time, providing her with an escort and backup of sorts.
At the inn, after much convincing, the old woman in charge had showed Tsunade to the correct room. What she had found had been much, much worse than she had imagined. Not only had Sakura been clearly fading fast, but Kakashi had also been noticeably beyond exhausted. The poor man had collapsed upon finally realizing that help had arrived and that Sakura would be in the best possible hands.
Tsunade shook her head. Kakashi's feelings were too obvious. He truly loved Sakura, and had been through the gates of hell and back to prove it. Tsunade had learned from the local doctor that Sakura's condition had been fluctuating up and down, taking an already exhausted Kakashi on an emotional rollercoaster. It was no wonder that he had collapsed.
Kakashi returned from the ensuite bathroom a few moments later, looking better but still bone weary. Clearly he needed more sleep, but for some reason he paused before stepping back into the room, indecision and a bit of uncertainty clear in his uncovered eye.
Amused, Tsunade chuckled and accurately guessed what might be giving the elite shinobi reason to pause. "Just get back into bed with her Kakashi. I won't say anything. And I know you want to," she smirked, unable to keep her amusement to herself any longer. "I really don't think Sakura will mind all that much."
Feeling his cheeks tint just a little, Kakashi was more than happy to comply. Sleep already tugging at him, he sighed with relief as he settled himself back in the bed next to the still unconscious woman. He was exactly where he wanted to be. A part of him wanted to pull Sakura into his arms, but he couldn't quite justify it, especially with Tsunade sitting there watching them. And, if he were to be honest with himself, he just didn't have the energy. Hopefully there would be plenty of time for that and much, much, more later, he rationalized. But he wasn't quite able to prevent himself from allowing one of his hands to stray a little to first lightly brush against, and then clasp one of Sakura's under the covers.
Just before closing his eye and drifting off, a thought struck Kakashi.
"What happened to the bandits?" he asked, suddenly aware that he'd be unable to rest for long without knowing their fate.
Tsunade chuckled darkly. "They've been taken care of. The entire place is rubble now."
Feeling a pang of guilt about Hideki, Kakashi felt compelled to ask, "Any survivors?"
Tsunade sighed. She should have expected the question, though she misconstrued the reason behind it. "None of the men who took or hurt Sakura are still alive. So, I don't expect you to take off on any missions of revenge…"
Kakashi shot a surprised glance at Tsunade, realizing what she must have thought. If everything had turned out differently… she would have been correct in her assumption. However, if Sakura was truly going to be okay, he would much rather stay with her than go out seeking revenge. She was going to need him now more than ever while she recovered and he wanted – no, needed –to be there for her.
"Furthest thing from my mind right now…" he grunted, not about to give her the satisfaction of knowing how right she could have been. "So, were there any survivors?"
Tsunade eyed him suspiciously for a moment before deciding that he meant what he'd said. She nodded, secure in the knowledge that Kakashi knew he'd be on the hook if something unfortunate were to happen to the few survivors they had taken prisoner.
"Yes, a few. Anyone who surrendered immediately was taken prisoner – mostly the administrative personnel, from what I understand."
Kakashi nodded to himself. If Hideki had survived the fight, he would have surrendered immediately. If he'd been killed, it had been by his cousin's men. Whatever had happened had been entirely out of his hands. With this semi-satisfying information, Kakashi allowed sleep to claim him once again.
Tsunade smiled as she watched the two shinobi sleep. As long as Sakura made it, the village wouldn't have to worry about losing a powerful shinobi line. Kakashi's actions had made it clear that he would not be letting Sakura go any time in the near future. He'd have to be a complete fool to do such a thing, and Tsunade knew that Kakashi was anything but a fool.
She chuckled to herself as she realized that the next big mission on the books for the elite shinobi would probably involve rings and a party, or diapers and lots of sleepless nights… or, hopefully, both.
Slowly, Sakura opened her eyes – everything hurt – unsure of what she would find. Her memory seemed to be made of fishnet – full of holes. She blinked a couple times, and as her vision cleared, her eyes focused on a busty blonde woman dozing in a chair next to the bed.
"Tsunade?" Sakura whispered uncertainly, wondering if her eyes were playing a cruel trick on her, or if the older woman occupied one of those gaps in her memory.
At the sound of Sakura's thin voice, Tsunade straightened in her chair and quickly glanced down at her former apprentice, smiling softly. "You're awake," she sighed with obvious relief. A part of her had been afraid that Sakura might not wake up after the severe trauma her body had suffered. "Finally. How are you feeling?"
"Ugh, even my hair hurts… what– what happened?" Sakura croaked, wrinkling her brow as she tried to remember.
Tsunade raised an eyebrow. "Well, I was hoping you could tell me… at least what you remember. Kakashi hasn't been much for talking since I got here."
A surge of panic shot through Sakura as she realized that Kakashi didn't seem to be where she had come to expect him – at her bedside. She gasped. Something had to be wrong for him to be missing. "Kakashi?"
"Easy there Sakura, he's fine. Just collapsed after I arrived and hasn't spent much time awake since. He mentioned that he took a soldier pill and then fought the aftereffects for a few days until I could get here. It was a bit much for him…" She shook her head ruefully, thinking about the foolish man, and continued, "Would be for anyone really."
Sakura sighed in relief. "Oh, okay…" she trailed off, wanting to know where Kakashi was, to see him for herself, but not quite wanting to be subjected to the merciless teasing she knew she would receive from her mentor. "You-you're sure?"
"Yes, yes. I'm sure." Tsunade kept a knowing smile to herself.
"Oh…" Sakura started, trying not to appear too eager or obvious.
Tsunade chuckled at Sakura's clear wish and tilted her chin just enough to indicate that Sakura should turn her head.
Sakura complied and gasped again upon finding an unconscious Kakashi sound asleep next to her. She shifted a little to get a better look and realized that one of the many aches and pains she was feeling was his hand holding hers in a vise-like grip. She hadn't even sensed his presence.
Feeling a little confused, Sakura turned back to Tsunade, tilting her head questioningly. She didn't bother trying to do anything about Kakashi's grip on her hand because a part of her didn't want him to let go. As long as he had her hand, she knew she couldn't lose him and he couldn't lose her.
"He's fine – just completely drained. Don't let it concern you. A couple more days in bed and he'll be as good as new." Tsunade paused for a moment and smirked. "Well, as good as can be expected for someone of his age."
"Oh…" Sakura turned once again to get a better look at Kakashi. He looked a little pale and haggard, and she couldn't help but feel concerned. If she had any chakra, she would have been tempted to reach out to scan and see for herself. "A-are you sure?"
"Positive. He's fine. You're the one we should be worrying about right now. You've given us all quite a scare. Took a good ten years off my life, and maybe twenty off Kakashi's… though I think you're probably going to be all right now."
Sakura felt her cheeks tint for a moment at her mentor's mention of Kakashi's feelings for her, and then wrinkled her brow a little, unable to piece together any of the most recent events. Last she remembered, she was trapped with Kakashi in Akinori's compound. If Kakashi had taken a soldier pill and fought the effects for a couple days, then at least a week had gone by, if not more.
"I-I don't understand… How did you get here? Where are we? What happened?"
Tsunade sighed and held out a glass of water, silently asking Sakura if she was thirsty. "I doubt I know much more than you. Why don't you tell me what happened to you, and I'll fill in the blanks as best I can. I suspect you're going to have to wait until Sleeping Beauty over there wakes up to hear the whole thing."
Sakura nodded and, with Tsunade's aid, managed to shift herself into a sitting position. Though she was loath to wiggle her hand out of Kakashi's grasp to accept the glass of water, practicality won out over sentimentality. Slowly, with Tsunade's help, she drained the whole thing. Feeling a little better, Sakura started her story – after reclaiming Kakashi's hand under the cover of the blankets.
Sakura took a moment to collect her thoughts, knowing that once she started, she would want to get through it all in one go. She didn't have it in her to relive the whole experience more than once.
Tsunade watched patiently, knowing how difficult this was going to be. She didn't try to rush the younger woman, letting her take her time.
Somewhat shakily, Sakura drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. Drawing on her kunoichi training, she began, doing her best to keep some distance between herself and her story.
"Well… I-I remember taking that escort assignment. As the days went on, I became more and more suspicious, but didn't have any real proof, or anything to go on other than gut instinct."
Sakura shook her head a little. It seemed like so long ago.
"We were almost at the border of Rain when I made up my mind to leave at the first sign that things weren't quite as they should be… Unfortunately, that's when I started getting bitten by mosquitoes, lots of them." She paused thoughtfully for a moment to take a one-handed sip of water from the partially filled glass. This was where her memory started to get muddled.
"A-at least that's what I thought at the time. I-I was wrong. They were tiny poison darts – must have taken at least a half-dozen or more of the little things to take me down. I'm guessing they originally tried to use one of the sedatives that I've built up a tolerance to… Must be why they switched to the more dangerous one later." Sakura paused again, lost in thought and still feeling weak. Subconsciously, she squeezed Kakashi's hand, looking for the support and comfort his presence never failed to give her.
Tsunade made no move to prompt her, knowing that just being awake was exhausting for her former apprentice. Instead, she took the almost empty glass from Sakura and filled it again.
Sakura closed her eyes for a moment, not wanting to relive the experience, but knowing that she would have to in order to properly tell her story. "I-I woke up in a small room with chakra inhibitors, but otherwise unrestrained. Once my captors realized I was awake much sooner than I should have been, they took me to see a man."
She trailed off, concentrating on the memories and trying to remember what had happened next. Everything was so fuzzy and vague in her mind. There was also the issue of the hallucinations and things that might have been fragments of dreams. She wasn't entirely certain that she could accurately separate those from reality. Sakura couldn't even begin to count how many times she had woken up to find Kakashi there to rescue her, only to realize that he was just a figment of her desperate imagination before the real Kakashi had actually come for her.
"The man, Akinori I think his name was, told me that I was to be his guest. How long I would be staying with them would depend on my former sensei. I-I was confused, didn't understand what he meant." She shuddered and found herself in need of more water before she could continue. "But, h-he clarified soon enough and made me an offer: my safety and Kakashi's safety in exchange for an operation… He-he," Sakura swallowed, not wanting to remember just how horrified she had been at the price demanded of her. "He told me that all I would have to do would be to-to transplant Kakashi's Sharingan into a new owner. Into himself."
Sakura stopped, not wanting to go on. It had been a terrible situation, and not one she ever wanted to relive. Even with all the research she'd been doing and her close relationship with Kakashi, it had never, even fleetingly, crossed her mind that someone may try to put her in a position where the price of her freedom or her life would be to do such an awful thing.
After several long moments, Tsunade realized that Sakura would need prompting if she ever wanted to hear the rest of the story. "And?"
Sakura pulled her gaze away from her mentor, then glanced briefly at the man sleeping beside her before focusing on her glass. "I told him… I-I told him I'd rather die," she continued in a small, weak voice.
Tsunade hissed a little. They were brave words from someone in Sakura's position, but Tsunade knew that, at the time, Sakura had meant them. She cared too much, and had too much respect for Kakashi to even consider such a thing. It made for quite the sticky situation for the both of them. Though apparently, as Kakashi still had his Sharingan, things hadn't come down to that.
Still a little shaken by the situation, Sakura continued. "Akinori didn't take me seriously. He just laughed and told me that when the time came we would see…" She stopped to think, her memories becoming foggy once again. A thought suddenly struck her, "He knew Kakashi would come," she murmured in a tone of awe. "That… man knew Kakashi would come for me."
Tsunade smiled and nodded encouragingly. Of course Kakashi would come for Sakura. It would have been nearly impossible to try and stop him. How Sakura hadn't seen it before was a true testament to how deeply in denial she must have been at that time. "What happened next?"
Sakura shook her head slowly to clear the realization that her captors really had known what they were doing from her mind. "Uh, I think someone knocked me out after that, can't remember much…" She shook her head again, feeling fuzzy just trying to remember the correct sequence of events. "I was there for a long time I think, but I'm not really sure… those sedatives, um…" Sakura trailed off again, unable to confidently set words to memories. She grimaced and shook her head.
Realizing that they'd probably come to the edges of Sakura's reliable memories, Tsunade nodded in acceptance and thought for a moment. "What about your legs? What happened to them?" Tsunade asked with some concern.
The older medic knew that Sakura would need surgery to correct the damage done, as well as some fairly intensive physical therapy before she would be fit to walk and live alone, never mind return to active duty again… not that it would be too big of a problem. Tsunade was positive that Kakashi would be more than happy to move in with Sakura while she was recovering, and conveniently forget to move back out. Though, if he didn't make any moves to make things official after a reasonable amount of time, Tsunade would have to put her foot down; she would not allow Kakashi to take advantage of the situation. Granted, after the scare he'd just had, she was fairly certain he would need no additional prodding.
"My legs?" Sakura asked, forgetting for a moment that they had been injured. Upon trying to move them, she hissed in pain, and was quickly reminded of her severed Achilles tendons. "Oh… um, uh, I tried, I tried to, to escape, I think…" she paused clearly trying to remember. There were so many memory fragments to separate from hallucinations. It was becoming harder to tell the two apart.
After a moment's concentration, the memory finally coalesced in her mind. "Um, yeah. An escape attempt. Almost made it out too, but I was unlucky…" she trailed off, not wanting to remember how close she had come to escaping the whole nightmare on her own. She shook herself a little and continued the story without prompting. "A-a group of men were, were returning just as I was slipping out the gate. They… uh, they grabbed me and brought me back inside."
Sakura swallowed hard and took a long drink of water. "Um, I think that's when they started sedating me almost all of the time. The first time I woke up I – I found my legs like – like this." She gestured to her injuries. "I'm guessing it was both a – a punitive and a preventative measure. I – I think they," she swallowed again, remembering her captor's fury, "they were starting to get a little, um, a little impatient with the village's lack of, uh, response to the ransom notes they'd been sending…" She trailed off, not wanting to put words to her memories of that time.
Sakura had known that the village didn't negotiate to free hostages. And that if an extraction team had been sent, she'd have been rescued by that point. All she could think at the time was that a team had been sent and had unfortunately been unsuccessful. She hadn't been able to think of any other reason for her prolonged imprisonment.
Momentarily forgetting how tough it must be for Sakura to tell her story, Tsunade shook her head irritably. "If they had wanted an immediate response, then they should have sent those letters to me, not Kakashi." The older woman caught the stricken expression on Sakura's face and guessed that Kakashi hadn't told her why he was so late. "They should have done their homework! Kakashi was out on a mission. He went after you as soon as he returned and opened those notes."
"Oh… So, that's why…?"
Tsunade reached out and patted Sakura's arm. "Silly girl, there was absolutely no question about it. As soon as he discovered the contents of those letters he was off and running, whether I was going to give him permission and the time off or not. I don't think there was anything anyone could have done to stop him, nor anyone foolish enough to even try."
Sakura took a moment to let it sink in. Even though Kakashi had clearly moved heaven and earth itself in order to get her back, a small part of her had wondered why it had taken him so long to come for her. The tiny portion of her that had dared to hope he would come had almost given up when he'd finally arrived. Learning that he'd been out of the village with no way of knowing about her abduction alleviated that lingering concern.
After a few moments of contemplative silence, Tsunade prompted Sakura again. "What happened after that?"
Sakura thought for a moment. "I'm not really sure. I-I know they were keeping me sedated… I don't really know how much of what I remember from then on out is real… I… I hallucinated and dreamed a lot…" She shook her head sadly.
Tsunade grimaced in sympathy. Sakura didn't have to elaborate. Tsunade could guess what the younger medic had hallucinated about, and didn't have to wonder how often Kakashi had figured into said hallucinations.
Sakura frowned, trying again to parse her memories. "I do remember, at least I'm pretty sure I remember, that my former landlord was there…"
"What?" Tsunade exclaimed with considerable surprise. "Are you certain that wasn't one of your dreams?"
Sakura shook her head in a negative, the memory of Hideki at the compound and the story he had told her becoming more firm in her mind. "No, he was there… it was his uncle that had me taken in the first place." She paused to glance again at Kakashi, feeling better just knowing that he was by her side. "Revenge. The whole thing was about revenge."
"What on earth are you talking about?" Tsunade made a move to reach out and scan Sakura, certain that something wasn't right. As far as she could tell, it had been an open and shut case of someone wanting Kakashi's Sharingan and taking an unusual path to get it.
Sakura sighed. "I think, if I remember correctly… this whole thing was a plot to get revenge on Kakashi. Or at least it started out that way." She sipped her water and glanced again at the silver haired man sleeping peacefully next to her. Her mind still boggled at the idea of it all. That everything had been set in motion so many years before, and nearly forgotten by both Kakashi and herself. "On one of our earlier missions as a team, I was kidnapped – for the first time."
Tsunade nodded; it was a fairly common occurrence.
"Kakashi was… well, thorough in his dealing with the men who'd taken me. Only took him a couple hours to track them down and…" she paused, looking for the correct word, "deal with them."
Tsunade raised an eyebrow. This was the first she'd heard of the incident. It was unsurprising though, considering how long ago it had happened – long before she'd even met Sakura, never mind become her mentor. And, as a fairly self-contained event – considering that Kakashi had managed to get her back so quickly – it wouldn't have merited much of an entry in Sakura's file.
Sakura glanced back at Kakashi and squeezed his hand a little. "I think Kakashi caught hell for it after, though he was completely unapologetic."
Tsunade shook her head in mild confusion, still wondering if Sakura had managed to parse her memories correctly this time. "That's interesting, but I don't see how it's relative."
"They were the same men. Kakashi left them for ANBU to take and use for interrogation practice…" Sakura flinched at the thought. "Eventually they were let go. Some of them, including their leader, were left unhinged by the whole experience." She couldn't suppress her shiver at the thought of Akinori and his eyes – she'd noticed something off with him, but hadn't been able to place it at the time. Now she knew – they were mad.
"So this whole thing was set up as some sort of revenge scheme against Kakashi?" Tsunade asked with some disbelief in her voice.
Sakura shuddered and nodded. It had all seemed unbelievable when Hideki had told her. "From what I understand, the actual kidnapping was never supposed to be put into action. It was meant to keep their leader busy so his sons could run the new bandit operation… a fantasy to keep him occupied and out from underfoot."
"But somehow the plot was put into motion?" Tsunade queried, still not quite believing the actual source of the whole nightmare.
Sakura nodded, trying not to think too much about it. The whole thing was still very disturbing to her. "Yes… and when the sons realized the prize they could get out of the situation…" she couldn't complete the thought aloud.
Tsunade caught on. "They decided to continue on with it, regardless of how foolish it all was?" she asked gently.
Not trusting her voice, Sakura simply nodded, still a little in disbelief herself.
Tsunade pressed on, knowing that Sakura wouldn't on her own. "So, they kept you alive in order to eventually perform the operation?"
"Yes… and…" she felt her cheeks redden at what she was going to say next, "e-even though there weren't any other young women there, I-I was left alone."
Tsunade raised an eyebrow in surprise. She'd assumed that Sakura had had to endure what most kunoichi did when left at the mercy of captors for any period of time.
"Unhinged as he may have been, he at least knew that if he wanted me to perform the transplant, I'd have to be treated marginally well… He must have known that there are a lot of things a medic can do during a procedure to make it either better or worse for a patient."
Unable to stop herself, Tsunade let out a brief bark of laughter. Sakura was most certainly right about wise patients not upsetting their medics, especially before a procedure.
Finally just wanting to be done with it, Sakura continued without prompting. "At some point I woke up and Kakashi was there. I'd lost track of the days at that point… I was certain I'd die… Didn't really believe it was him at first…"
Sakura paused again to glance at Kakashi. "What happened? How did I end up here? I really can't remember much after Kakashi turned up…"
Tsunade frowned a little. "That I don't really know. You'll have to ask Kakashi when you're both awake. From what I understand, there was some sort of power grab."
Sakura's eyes widened in surprise, "Oh, wait… I do remember… sort of…" She pounded her memory for a moment. "Kakashi had to go do something… he left Bull," her eyes widened again as the memory swam into sharper focus, "Oh, no Bull!" she exclaimed as she remembered the ninken valiantly trying to defend her. Sakura could see him in her mind's eye fighting a losing battle, and wasn't sure how things could have ended well for him. Sakura felt her eyes tear up and didn't bother to try and stop the tears from running down her cheeks.
Anxious to not to let the kunoichi dwell on what was obviously a terrible memory, Tsunade tried to get Sakura back on track. Kakashi hadn't mentioned losing one of his ninken; hopefully, that wasn't the case. "Kakashi had to go somewhere?"
"Oh… yes… he left Bull… poor Bull… such a good ninken…" She didn't remember him falling. It was possible that he hadn't. Sakura shook her head as if to banish the negative thoughts and continued. "Almost as soon as Kakashi left, the fighting started." She wiped her eyes. "I don't know what happened or why… I just remember men bursting in and Bull defending me… I really don't remember anything else."
Sakura sat lost in thought for a moment, digesting what she had just remembered, before realizing that she'd neglected to ask a fairly important question. For a moment, fear prevented her from asking, but she pushed past it and was able to bring it up. "Am… am I going to be okay?" she managed to ask, in a small voice. "I-I guess I've managed to survive… but…" she trailed off, not certain how to finish the sentence.
Surprised out of her own thoughts, Tsunade turned her attention back to Sakura, not sure how she wanted to answer the tricky question. She paused for another moment, deliberately choosing her words carefully. "You're going to need major surgery for your Achilles' tendons – they're healing but not correctly. Unsurprising considering the circumstances. We'll do it with the orthopaedic team once you return to the village."
Tsunade sighed and continued, "After that, you will need some intense physical therapy. You'll also need to practice some very carefully managed chakra building exercises as part of your rehabilitation. You went far beyond your limits in trying to heal yourself. I think you'll be fine, no reason for you not to be, but we will just have to wait and see. "
Tsunade paused again, not wanting to bring it up so soon after Sakura had awoken, but figuring that it should be mentioned. "You're very lucky. I don't think you did any permanent damage to yourself, but we won't know for sure until you're fully healed. Overusing your chakra like that could have permanently damaged your ability to manipulate chakra."
Sakura drew in a sharp breath. In her fight for survival, she hadn't thought about the possibility that she could end up no longer able to manipulate chakra – her whole life had been built around her excellent chakra control.
Tsunade hurried on, not wanting Sakura to dwell on the life-altering possibility. "I don't believe that will be the case here though. It will take some hard work, but as long as no permanent damage has been done, I believe you'll be just fine when all of this is over. It's just going to take some time."
Sakura blinked slowly and yawned, waking up once again to find that she was still in the large bed at the hotel. Tsunade had immensely enjoyed telling Sakura just where exactly they were. Sakura knew it would be a long time before she'd hear the end of it from her former mentor. Apparently, the hotel manageress had had many enlightening conversations with Tsunade while Sakura had been out of it.
This time Sakura appeared to be alone. At a loss as to what she should do, she laid still, knowing that moving would reawaken all the little aches and pains that still plagued her. Even with the help of the best medic available, she knew it would be a long time before she was fully healed and back to normal.
Sakura found her gaze wandering to the open window. Tsunade had been clear in her instructions before she left – Sakura could sleep as much as she needed, however, both the windows and curtains were to be kept open during the day. The medic wanted Sakura to try and get her sleep schedule back on track and also benefit from the fresh air. The window opened out onto a small private courtyard that separated the hotel from the hotel manageress' private quarters, and had been deemed secure by Tsunade's entourage. In addition to several of Tsunade's guard – likely positioned just out of sight – the little yard contained an ancient plum tree, a bench, and a mostly flat expanse of grass. As Sakura observed, a small bluebird alighted on the lowest branch of the tree and began to sing.
Her thoughts wandered while listening the the little bird. A small part of her was disappointed to find that Kakashi was not there by her side. Though she really couldn't fault him for it. From what Tsunade had told her, she'd put him through an emotional rollercoaster from hell. Between her kidnapping, the injuries she had sustained while being held captive, the poisoning and overdose, and the infection, he had been run ragged both physically and emotionally. Somehow, through strange tricks of fate, she'd managed to miss Kakashi the last time she'd found herself conscious. She hadn't had a chance to speak to him yet.
Sakura's mind wandered. What would happen next? They hadn't really had the chance to talk about the future before Kakashi had… her mind shied at the memory and settled on 'gotten her out of there.' He'd gone after and rescued her against steep odds. Clearly, there were feelings there. But what would happen now that she was out of immediate danger? They'd return to the village – how she would make it, Sakura couldn't begin to guess. It would be days before she could even walk on her own never mind living alone after having her Achilles' tendons re-severed and reattached once she'd returned to the village – and living on the fourth floor nonetheless!
There was also the additional possibility – though Tsunade had so far been adamant that the likelihood was very slim – that she may have permanently damaged her ability to control chakra. This terrifying thought plagued her. Sakura had no idea what she would do if she were no longer able to use chakra. Tsunade had ordered her not to try anything just yet. The older medic wanted Sakura to wait until she returned to the village before she made any attempts; that would give her more than enough time to let her system recover from her severe chakra overuse. And, if Sakura were to be honest with herself, she had been too afraid to even contemplate trying anyway.
With a faint frown, Sakura allowed herself to become lost in thought. There were so many things to work out and plan for when she returned to the village. Never mind the mystery of how Kakashi would fit into it all. Or how Bull had fared. Tsunade had not been particularly forthcoming with details from Kakashi, leading Sakura to fear the worst for the big black ninken. If he had fallen, would Kakashi hold her responsible? Would she be?
Silently, the door opened, and a familiar head poked in – presumably to check on her. Kakashi stifled a sigh of relief and fully entered the room upon finding Sakura conscious.
"You're awake." He smiled, only a little strained.
Sakura returned his smile faintly, still in a lot of pain, and suddenly feeling shy. "You're stating the obvious." She giggled a bit to cover her uncertainty.
Awkwardly, Kakashi raised a hand to the back of his neck, at a total loss of how to act around her after what they'd been through. "Eh-heh, guess so."
They stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Neither one of them knowing how to begin or even what to say. Strangely enough, things had been far easier between the two of them while she was being held captive.
Sakura opened her mouth to try and fill the oppressive silence, only to unexpectedly find herself coughing, her throat suddenly dry.
Kakashi sprang into action – relieved to be doing something – fetching Sakura a glass of water, then easing her into a sitting position. Upon seeing how her hands were shaking, he slipped onto the bed next to her and slid his arm around the coughing woman to help her drink.
Once Sakura's thirst had been slaked and her coughing ceased, she sighed as Kakashi took the glass from her. Sakura enjoyed the feeling of his arm around her too much to leave his partial embrace, at least not so soon. Instead, she allowed herself a small indulgence and let her body relax comfortably into him. She felt his arm slip down from around her shoulders to her waist and gently, almost absently, pull her a little closer against him.
Still feeling weak from her extended ordeal and thankful for Kakashi's support, Sakura simply closed her eyes and enjoyed the quiet moment – the first one they'd shared together since before she was kidnapped. For the first time in a long time, she felt safe, and as though things were going to be alright.
After a few minutes, she opened her eyes and felt obligated to say something. "Kakashi…"
Still tired himself and loath to let the moment pass, Kakashi shifted a bit to face the pink haired woman without removing his arm from around her. "Hmm?"
"Thanks," Sakura began, before realizing that she had no idea what else she should say, or how she could even begin to express her gratitude. Sakura frowned a bit, some color tinting her still pale cheeks as she tried to find the words. She wanted to thank him – not only for the glass of water, but for, well, everything. He'd saved her, in more ways than one. And, she needed for him to know. "I-I mean, I, um… well, I–"
Kakashi chuckled and allowed his arm to briefly tighten, momentarily pulling Sakura a bit closer. He already knew what she was trying to say, and didn't need her to actually speak the words. "You're welcome."
Surprised, Sakura stiffened and attempted to lean away from Kakashi in protest. She opened her mouth to object, but closed it again upon realizing that she still didn't know what to say, or if anything was even necessary at that point. A moment or two ticked by as she wrestled with herself before she finally – with an exhalation of relief – relaxed, having come to the conclusion that words weren't really necessary after all.
Kakashi heaved a silent sigh of relief of his own, relieved that the once oppressive silence was gone. After a moment he shifted them a little on the bed, being extra careful of Sakura's injured legs; Tsunade would kill him if he'd, even accidentally, managed to reopen her wounds. Shifting himself so that he was sitting up in bed behind her, he gently settled Sakura more comfortably in his arms.
Kakashi wanted to do more, but knew that neither of them were up to much. Well, neither of them were up to anything, really, aside from what they were currently doing. Instead, he contented himself with the fact that Sakura had made it. She was going to be okay, was happily ensconced in his arms, and wasn't going anywhere in the near future.
After several more moments of companionable silence, Sakura realized that if she didn't speak soon, they would probably both fall asleep, and none of her new concerns would be addressed.
Almost hesitantly, she spoke up, trying to put voice to some of her concerns. "Kakashi?"
"Hmm?" he vocalized noncommittally, not liking the tentative note to her voice or how tense her body had suddenly become. Mentally he prepared a dodge, just in case. He wasn't sure if he was ready for any of the big conversations yet.
"H-how is Bull?" Sakura asked in barely a whisper.
"Bull?" Kakashi hedged, uncertain how to respond; he hadn't expected her to ask about his, admittedly severely injured, summons.
"Y-yes, I don't remember everything… and, what little that I do remember…" she trailed off for a moment and shuddered.
Kakashi reflexively tightened his arms around Sakura, seeking to comfort her, but knowing he could do nothing more to help. There were many things she would have to work through on her own. Not that he wouldn't help as much as he could, but some things Sakura would have to do by herself, and he knew he would have to let her – even though he may want very badly to try and help.
Feeling reassured by his actions, Sakura made a second attempt. "Bull was there, wasn't he?"
"Yes, I called him for you," Kakashi responded gently, knowing what she wanted to ask but suspecting that she might need to put voice to it herself.
"And, he got hurt, didn't he?"
Sakura swallowed, not sure she really wanted to know. "Badly…"
Kakashi felt her body tense once again in his arms. He frowned, deciding to answer the unasked question. He couldn't bear to watch her agonizing over the outcome any longer. "Yes, he did. But, he's going to be just fine. Nothing a bit of rest and recovery won't mend."
"Really?" Sakura asked with only a faint note of disbelief.
"Yes, really. When you're both better, I can summon him if you'd like to see him."
Sakura heaved a huge sigh of relief, feeling the tension just drain from her.
"Yes, please! I'd like that." She found herself smiling even though she knew he couldn't see it, but knowing him, he would somehow sense it.
A smile spread across Kakashi's face as he felt her relax once again in his arms.
They both fell into a comfortable, though contemplative, silence – each lost in their own thoughts of what the future was likely to hold for them, both aware that they wouldn't know for certain until they actually had a conversation about it. Sakura found her eyes once again gazing out the window to find that the cheerful little bluebird in the tree seemed to have gained a less brightly hued partner. A small part of her had to wonder if she was the bird's mate. They certainly seemed comfortable enough with each other for that to be the case.
Finally, Sakura pulled her eyes from the birds outside to refocus on the matters at hand. "Kakashi, what do we do now?"
"Hmm?" he asked, wishing that she hadn't broken the silence, even though he knew it couldn't last forever. But there were things they would eventually have to discuss.
Sakura turned her head a bit to try and catch his eye. "What am I going to do now?"
Sensing that there was more to the question than what she was saying, Kakashi decided to avoid it. They had a lot to talk about, but he didn't feel up to it just yet.
"You'll heal, regain your strength – get better. You're not ready for anything else," he chided with an underlying current of stern concern. Everything else could wait as far as he was concerned.
Sakura smiled faintly and almost let him deter her. But then she shook her head slightly before rephrasing her question. "What am I going to do when I get back to the village?"
"How do you mean?" Kakashi asked carefully, tilting his head slightly to show his confusion. She'd gone in an unexpected direction. He'd expected her to ask about their relationship, and, of course, what exactly said relationship was.
Sakura sighed and glanced away. "I'm going to have serious surgery when we get back. I'll lose all the mobility I've regained pretty much as soon as we return. I'll hardly be able to do anything on my own – not for some time anyway." She paused, not really sure why she was asking. She knew Kakashi couldn't really help, considering his usual mission load. He would likely be sent back out almost as soon as they returned. He had, after all, already spent quite a lot of time out of rotation to rescue her. "I guess I have a lot to sort out before I get back."
"Such as?" Kakashi asked with some apprehension. He rested his chin lightly on her shoulder as he wondered what he could possibly have overlooked. As far as he was concerned, sorting out the details of their living arrangements upon their return to the village was the easy part.
"Well, for starters, how to get back to the village. And, after that, I'll have to either find someone to move in with me while I recover, or move in with someone else–" she paused as she remembered her building's lack of an elevator. "Then again, my apartment building isn't really set up for someone who can't really walk, now is it?"
Kakashi was confused. He would have thought that it was a foregone conclusion. He decided to go along with her – if only to probe the depths of her concerns for any surprises. After all, he fully intended on moving into her apartment once they returned to the village. Granted, he would use the excuse that he was repaying her for all the times she'd taken care of him, but when all was said and done, and she was fully healed and back to work… he had no intention of moving back out.
"It isn't?" he asked, trying to find out the extent of her concerns.
Sakura made a move as if to try and swat him, only to discover that she lacked the energy and sighed instead. "Kakashi, I live on the fourth floor."
"Mmm?" He couldn't keep his arms from shifting a little, settling more comfortably around her waist.
She suppressed a shiver at his movements and retained her focus on the matter at hand. Though Sakura knew Kakashi couldn't see it, she rolled her eyes. "In an apartment building without an elevator."
"Ah, I see how you could think that would be a problem." he nodded sagely, intentionally neglecting to elaborate.
Confused by his phrasing, Sakura made enough of an effort to turn, forcing Kakashi to loosen his hold on her. She shifted and leaned forward enough to look him in the eye. "Could be a problem?"
"Mmm-hmm." Once again he nodded his affirmation with a slight smile.
She raised a suspicious eyebrow. "How do you figure that?"
Unable to suppress it, he chuckled at the quizzical expression on her face.
"I can see how you might think it would be a problem, but I'm sure that your landlord will be adding an elevator sometime in the near future." He kept a smug smile from his face.
Kakashi knew for a fact that an elevator would already be in the process of being installed when they returned to the village. He'd sent word ahead to make sure of it, taking care to also have a message dropped in her mailbox about the project. So when she returned, the elevator installation would be in progress, along with a backdated notice apologizing for any inconvenience the project may cause.
Kakashi knew he would eventually have to tell Sakura that he owned the building, but thought it prudent to wait until things were more settled – meaning permanent – between them.
Sakura frowned. "Now how can you possibly know that?"
A mischievous twinkle entered Kakashi's eye as he contemplated toying with her more. But her energy was fading fast. She'd already tired herself out with all of her (needless) worrying. So instead, he settled on a convenient, but plausible, fiction.
"I know your building is still under construction. It is being modernized isn't it?"
She nodded warily.
Kakashi shrugged. "Well, it stands to reason that an elevator would be amongst the modernizations, doesn't it?"
She narrowed her eyes and tilted her head slightly in thought, weighing his statement for truth. Finally, she nodded decisively. "Hmm, well… I can see that you're probably right."
He grinned. "Good."
Sakura smiled faintly, Kakashi's good mood apparently infectious. They sat in silence for a few moments, Sakura still posed rather uncomfortably. Sensing her discomfort, Kakashi pulled her back to rest against his chest.
After a few minutes of comfortable silence, during which Sakura let herself just enjoy the simple, pleasant sensation of being so tenderly held in his arms, she felt obliged to once again speak. "Hmm, that still leaves what I'll do about living alone…" She frowned. "There's just no way I'll be able to manage by myself."
Momentarily frowning himself, Kakashi let the silence descend while he worked out how to respond. As his mind wandered, Kakashi's eye found the window and he absently watched as a male bluebird happily chased a female about the plum tree in the courtyard. Eventually he gave up looking for a roundabout way to phrase his plan, deciding to just put his idea out there and see how she took it.
"Hmm…" He rested his chin on her shoulder again. "I don't really think you'll have to."
Sakura tried turning her head to see his expression, but only managed to catch a glimpse from out of the corner of her eye. "What do you mean?"
Instead of answering he posed his own question. "Sakura, how many times have you taken care of me when I was unable to do so myself?"
"Umm…" she tried to count in her head and found there were too many, "I don't know. Quite a few I guess."
"I don't understand."
"Sakura, did it not occur to you that I might be available for the position of nursemaid?" he asked with a bit of gentle reproach.
"What?" she exclaimed with a surprised giggle at the mental picture the phrase 'nursemaid' conjured in combination with Kakashi.
He sighed dramatically. "Now, I might not look as good as you do in the uniform, but I'm certainly capable of helping out around your apartment."
Honestly, Sakura hadn't seriously considered the idea of Kakashi moving in to lend a hand. Of course she'd thought it might be a nice idea, but probably not all that practical as he'd be back on duty as soon as he'd recovered – as always. And then what would she do? No, she'd thought about it, but had come to the reluctant conclusion that it wasn't feasible. Though, the idea of him moving in sometime in the future definitely held more than a little appeal.
"I… I didn't think..." she trailed off as she felt Kakashi shift a bit behind her, one of his arms removing itself from around her. "I-I couldn't ask you…" Shortly she heard the soft rustle of fabric shifting as he presumably lowered his mask. Her presumption was confirmed when she felt his uninhibited breath against her neck.
"Sakura," he breathed into her ear, knowing full well the sort of reaction he would elicit. "I moved heaven and earth to get you back." He replaced his arm around her and pulled her a little closer to him, his hands willfully kept in check, though they were just itching to wander a little.
She squeaked, unable to respond any further as her mind shut down all non-vital thought processes.
"Do you really think I'll let you go just because we've returned to the village?"
Stunned, Sakura sat in silence for a few moments unable to gather her wits. "Kakashi… I…"
"Hmmm?" Too tired to want to continue the conversation, he nuzzled her ear in an attempt to distract her.
"I-I can't… ask you to… to stop working just… just to, to take care of me," she responded as best as she could while he did the best he could to distract her.
Kakashi chuckled, enjoying the way Sakura shivered in his arms. "I have quite a bit of leave time saved up."
"Do you?" She couldn't prevent herself from stiffening a bit.
"Sakura, I've been on the village's payroll–" he paused as he was about to say 'since before you were born,' but realized that mentioning their gap in ages might ruin the moment, "–for a good many years, and in those years I've only once voluntarily taken time off." He nuzzled her ear a little again, and pressed a gentle kiss to her neck.
"O-once?" she asked faintly, wondering what on earth could have been so important for him to use his time off if he'd never felt it necessary to do so before. And, almost more importantly, what was he trying to accomplish by so thoroughly distracting her with his maskless antics.
"Mmm." He smiled into her neck, hoping to end the conversation with his next statement. "Seems the woman I loved had been kidnapped."
Sakura's cheeks flushed a deep red and she was momentarily rendered speechless. Kakashi hadn't said it before, and she hadn't expected to hear him say it just then. Never mind the fact that she hadn't even said it to him directly – just in the note. She had to assume that he'd read it; he had, after all, found her stash of pills and super concentrated chakra-enhanced ointment.
Kakashi chuckled lightly at her response and leaned forward to kiss her cheek, not quite able to reach her lips.
Still stunned, she turned her head to try and get a look at his expression. "Kakashi, I–"
He took the opportunity to kiss Sakura again, this time able to reach her lips. He managed to keep it soft and brief though, since he knew Tsunade would kill him if he let things go too far with his kunoichi in her current state. And – if he were being honest with himself – in his own currently weakened state, Kakashi knew he'd have a hard time stopping if he let things progress too far.
Somewhat dazed, Sakura shook her head a little and tried to speak again once he withdrew. "Kakashi I–" Only she was interrupted a second time as he pulled her closer so he could kiss her again.
"You're not going to let me say it, are you?" she asked with a faint accusatory tone in her voice when Kakashi withdrew. To prevent being silenced a third time, she turned her head away slightly.
"Mmm, nope, not now." Kakashi nuzzled her ear, wanting Sakura to turn her head towards him again, but also knowing that it was a slippery slope. He was already flirting dangerously with the edge. On top of that, Kakashi wasn't sure what hearing those three little words from her would do to his now tenuous grasp on his self-control. He'd wanted to be with Sakura for so long that it was still difficult for him to believe that he finally was. Just holding her would soon not be enough if he wasn't careful.
"Kakashi!" she exclaimed, though with flagging energy and her cheeks still pink. She'd not expected this from him, at least not so soon. Though, thinking about it, she wasn't complaining...
Sensing that Sakura was beginning to run out of energy, he sighed, realizing that she still had a long way to go before she would be up to any kind of actual romantic interlude. "We can save that for another time. You're tired."
Sakura inhaled to protest but found herself yawning instead. "You're right," she admitted with a sigh as she relaxed into his arms once again. "But, this conversation isn't over."
Kakashi kept a smile to himself, simply enjoying the way she automatically relaxed into his arms. "Good. Now that that's all settled, I think it's probably a good idea for you to get some rest."
Suddenly exhausted, Sakura yawned again, realizing that she must have really expended a lot more energy worrying than she'd first thought. Just the mere fact that Kakashi had volunteered to help her out when she returned to the village had been enough for her to relax. They still had a lot to discuss, but for now his offer to help made all the difference.
"Hmm… sounds like a… a plan." Sakura couldn't prevent another yawn. "But, I wanna talk more when I wake up."
Kakashi smiled, knowing he'd already won. He'd be moving in when they returned to the village, and would conveniently forget to move out. With that happy thought, he pulled her just a little closer so he could kiss her cheek once more. The corner of her mouth raised in a slight smile for just a brief moment, before relaxing again as sleep claimed her.
Sakura shifted slightly upon hearing the familiar sound of claws against hardwood, rousing her from her light doze. Curious, she opened her eyes and glanced down at the floor next to the hotel bed.
"Pakkun?" she exclaimed with some surprise, though she probably shouldn't have been surprised to see Kakashi's most called-for summons.
"Hey Boss Lady," Pakkun greeted her with a canine smile as he paused by the side of the bed. "Mind if I come up?" he asked as he gestured with a paw.
Sakura shifted herself into a sitting position before responding. "Sure." Still surprised by his greeting she couldn't help but ask, "Boss Lady?"
The little pug hopped up onto the bed, making sure to be extra careful not to jostle Sakura's legs – Kakashi would kill him if he, even accidentally, caused the pink haired woman any unnecessary pain. Cautiously, Pakkun settled himself next to her on the bed before responding. "You're the Boss's lady. The Boss said you two are together now, so that now makes you the Boss Lady."
Startled, Sakura couldn't prevent a short laugh. When they'd finally broached the topic of their relationship, Kakashi had wanted an exclusive one – badly – but had felt uncomfortable about using any sort of a title. She suspected that at his age, he found the whole dating process to be awkward. They had agreed that if their relationship were to progress beyond whatever it was now (aside from exclusive), it wouldn't likely include titles. At least, not until she insisted. Which, she didn't plan to do unless and until they were ready for the next step. But Kakashi didn't seem adverse to titles like husband and wife, just boyfriend and girlfriend. However, it would seem that Kakashi's summons had other ideas.
"Pakkun, I don't think it works like that…"
The ninken just shook his head. "Nah, the boys and I have discussed it. You're the Boss Lady now."
Momentarily speechless, Sakura could only stare at the pug until she managed to pull herself together enough to respond. "I'm flattered."
Pakkun chuckled. "Think nothing of it."
"Still… I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything." He paused briefly before continuing their conversation. "So, how are you feeling?"
"A lot better, I think," Sakura responded, grateful for the change in subject. "I'm hoping to be out of bed for short periods of time soon."
The little pug nodded. "Good, I'm glad to hear it. The boys will want to know."
Her eyes widened in surprise.
Pakkun chuckled. "They've been asking, but Kakashi has been too busy to call any of us for regular updates."
Sakura felt her cheeks tint, knowing that it was entirely her fault, and hoping that Kakashi's pack wouldn't hold it against her.
"Aw, don't worry about it," he hastily reassured her with a pat on her leg. "It's only to be expected after all."
Sakura's eyes widened as it finally hit her. "Bull?" she asked with only a little hesitation.
"What about him?"
"Is he okay? I know he was seriously injured…"
"Oh, that. Yeah, he's going to be fine. He just needs some time to rest and recuperate – like you." He shot her an inquiring glance. "Didn't the Boss tell you?"
"Y-yes, he did but…" Sakura trailed off not wanting to say that she'd been afraid Kakashi was fibbing to her about it while she was in recovery.
Pakkun caught on to her hesitation and chuckled. "Don't worry, Bull is going to be just fine. Whatever Kakashi has been telling you is accurate. He's not trying to protect you from some bad news while you're healing."
She sighed in relief, truly glad that the bullmastiff was going to be okay. "I'm so glad to hear that. Kakashi promised to let me see him once we're both feeling better."
Pakkun nodded, already knowing Kakashi's plans.
"Speaking of, he's not here right now," Sakura added unnecessarily. It had just dawned on her that it was a little strange for the pug to come see her. "Oh!" she exclaimed, as another reason for Pakkun's presence occurred to her. "He didn't send you to me, did he?" Sakura wasn't able to keep the sudden spike of anxiety from entering her voice. She couldn't imagine Tsunade summoning Kakashi away from her at a time like this, but...
Pakkun's eyes widened as he realized what Sakura must think. "Oh, no! No, no!" he hastened to try and assuage her concerns. "I'm looking for the Boss and I figured it would be easiest to come here and wait for him, rather than track him all over the village."
Sakura couldn't help but heave a huge sigh of relief. She'd not realized how much the thought of Kakashi being called back on duty, as unlikely as it was, would panic her.
Sensing that he needed to say something to reassure the Boss's lady, Pakkun continued, "I'm sure he'll come right here when he gets back." He couldn't help but mutter under his breath, "At least he will if he knows what's good for him."
Sakura couldn't help but laugh at the summons' reply, not having expected Pakkun to be so honest. "Well, I'm sure you're right about that. He mentioned some errands he had to run. I got the impression that he didn't want to go, so he should be back soon." Sakura was unable to stifle a yawn that had snuck up on her.
Pakkun chuckled. "Don't feel like you need to be awake for my sake, Boss Lady. I don't mind if you go back to sleep. I'll just settle myself down right here." He took a couple steps closer to her and turned around three times before curling up beside her with a yawn of his own.
Sakura smiled at Kakashi's smallest summons. "Alright, think I will." The pink haired woman shifted herself back down into the blankets.
After a moment of silence, she couldn't help but ask. "Pakkun?"
"Is it okay if I scratch your ears a little?"
Surprised, he let out a little bark of laughter. "Sure, Boss Lady. Even the toughest ninken can't say no to a good scratch, especially before a nap."
Sakura laughed, her hand already reaching to scratch the little pug's ears.
Kakashi cautiously stuck his head into the bedroom. He assumed that Sakura was probably sleeping again, but still wanted to make sure. He had to do a double take upon realizing that she wasn't alone in the large hotel bed. His kunoichi lay curled on her side, his lead summons curled up next to her. One of her hands rested lightly on Pakkun's head. Both of them were clearly deep asleep.
Silently, Kakashi entered the room, not wanting to wake Sakura up. He carefully made his way to her bedside, trying surreptitiously to get the attention of his summons.
Sensing his boss's presence, Pakkun opened a single eye to regard Kakashi. Pakkun opened his mouth wide in a yawn, allowing his tongue to momentarily curl out, before carefully disentangling himself from the sleeping woman next to him. He took a few steps to the edge of the bed before silently glancing down at the floor and then back up at his old friend, an eyebrow raised.
Rolling his eye, Kakashi picked up his small summons, guessing that Pakkun didn't want to wake Sakura by landing on the hardwood with his claws.
Once they were clear of her room, Kakashi bent down to place Pakkun on the floor. Then he continued across the large living area to the second bedroom attached to their suite. Kakashi closed the door to not only ensure their privacy, but also to make sure their voices didn't rouse Sakura.
"Is everything all right, old friend?" Kakashi asked, concern clear in his voice. Pakkun didn't usually turn up unless he was summoned, so it would have to be something serious for the little pug to decide to pay him an unannounced visit.
Pakkun waved a paw dismissively. "More or less. But, I have news."
"Bull?" Kakashi asked with a note of panic mixed with guilt. He'd been so focused on Sakura that he hadn't properly checked in with the pack in days. Granted, that hadn'tstopped Pakkun from periodically checking in with him.
"He'll be fine. Like I told the Boss Lady, he just needs some time to heal."
"Boss Lady?" Kakashi couldn't help but ask, his eyebrow raised in surprise.
"That's part of the news."
"I'm all ears."
"Well, the boys and I had a talk and decided that since you're the Boss, that makes her the Boss Lady."
"Pakkun, what does that even mean?"
The little ninken shrugged, unconcerned. "Means what it means. We'll be around and won't need you to order us to help if she ever needs it."
Kakashi nodded, his eye a little wide. He'd not thought that the pack would accept Sakura so easily, or without him first asking. Though, he had planned on making a formal request when they returned to Konoha, which Pakkun was aware of. The little pug must have taken it upon himself to push the request through on Kakashi's behalf.
Pakkun grinned. "Don't mention it. She makes you happy. We– well, really, everyone wants to make sure nothing can take her away from you again."
Stunned, Kakashi sat and just stared at his old friend.
Sensing that he wouldn't get any other response, Pakkun cleared his throat and quickly moved on to the reason he'd come. "In other news, Bull is recovering nicely."
Finally able to push the overwhelming warmth of appreciation he felt for his pack to the rear of his mind, Kakashi was better able to focus on their conversation. "Why do I sense a 'but' coming?"
"Because there is one. That was Bull's last mission."
Kakashi nodded. This wasn't unexpected. "I understand. He has well and truly earned his retirement." He thought for a moment. "The pack select a replacement?"
"Yes, Tiny and Jumbo will do nicely."
"Yes, Tiny is too thick to operate on his own, and he knows it. Jumbo is too small to be of as much use as Bull was. They work perfectly as a team though."
"Right. Let them take the test then – make sure they stay in sync. Once they can reliably pass, I'll add them to the active roster." He paused in thought as he realized that things would be different for a while once he returned to the village. "Actually, I'll have time when we get back to Konoha. I think I'd like to run some training then, that way I can see how they work together."
Pakkun nodded, having expected as much.
"Is everyone ready for when we return? Flora and Fauna still good to go?"
"Well, they have recently spent some time with their uncle and have decided to take the training after all."
"What?" Kakashi asked with more than a little surprise. "I thought they were dead-set against doing the training?"
"When they saw the state Bull came back in after that last mission and heard what happened, they decided it would probably be best to take the training. Granted, they still don't want to go on missions, but they figure that even if they're going to live domestically, it wouldn't hurt for them to know all the moves – you know, just in case."
Kakashi sighed. A big part of his plan for when they returned to the village depended on Bull's sister's offspring. Their desire to take the training effectively delayed his plans as it would be months before they were ready to do it, never mind complete it.
Reading his friend's thoughts, Pakkun continued. "Bull has a request."
Lost in his concern over his now spoiled plans, Kakashi didn't hear what his little summons just said. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Bull. He has a request," Pakkun repeated patiently, guessing where Kakashi's mind had gone.
Kakashi nodded. It was unusual but not unheard of for one of his retiring summons to have a request. Usually, it had something to do with finding a place for them to retire in peace. "Anything. If it's within my power to grant it, then he shall have it."
"He wants to spend his retirement with Sakura."
"She's going to need help, and a service ninken wouldn't be a bad idea – at least while she recuperates. And Bull wants something to do in his retirement. So, he's asked if he can live with Sakura."
Still surprised that one of his pack would volunteer to help him take care of Sakura, Kakashi found that for a moment he could only nod. When he was able to collect himself, he responded. "I can't speak for her, but she's been asking about him almost daily. I can't imagine her refusing such an offer."
"Good. Now that that's taken care of, I think I'm going to go finish up that nap." Pakkun made as if to exit the room – presumably to return to his position on Sakura's bed.
"Just a minute old friend."
"Are Flora and Fauna both still interested in the domestic life? That is, after they complete their training, they still want to join Sakura?"
"And now Bull wants to live with Sakura too?"
"Sakura's going to need a bigger apartment. That'll be three bullmastiffs – granted two are mixed with a smaller breed and adolescents to boot, but they will eventually grow…" He eyed the pug with a sneaking suspicion. "Plus an occasional pug and myself moving in when we get back..."
Pakkun chuckled. "Let me guess. You need me to go back to the village then?"
Kakashi sighed. "Yes. Do you need me to write it all out? Or will the lawyer and bankers follow your instructions without a written order from me?"
"Best be on the safe side, Boss."
"Right, right." Absently, Kakashi dug around in the small desk in the bedroom for some paper and a pen.
Nervously, Takahiro, the doctor and son of the hotel manageress, made his way to the suite. He knew that there was no real reason for him to feel any anxiety, but somehow he still couldn't suppress the emotion. Collecting himself, he knocked, knowing that it might take a few attempts before he received an answer.
A few moments later the door opened to show a shirtless, though not maskless Copy Ninja. It was clear that he'd just gotten out of the shower, as his hair was still damp and a towel was draped across his shoulders.
"Good morning, Doctor," the silver haired man greeted his visitor. "Last I checked, Sakura was awake and impatiently waiting for your arrival."
Startled, the older man hastened into the suite. He hadn't had much in the way of interactions with the kunoichi once she'd woken up – the presence of the Hokage from their village had rendered his presence unnecessary – but had heard from his mother that her temper was something he never wanted to witness first hand.
Kakashi chuckled as he watched the doctor hurry into the suite and make his way to Sakura's room, accurately guessing the reason for Takahiro's haste. It seemed that Sakura's temper was legendary even in this small town.
The doctor hesitated at the doorway. Though the door was ajar, Takahiro felt awkward about just pushing it open and entering. His awkwardness was dispelled as Kakashi walked past him and right into the room, not pausing to knock or announce himself before doing so.
"Sakura?" Kakashi called out softly as he crossed the room – just in case she had fallen back asleep. Quietly, he made his way to her bedside, raising an eyebrow upon finding Urushi on the bed next to his kunoichi. With a brief frown, Kakashi pointed to the floor, watching as the gray ninken sighed despondently before jumping down and sauntering out of the room.
Shifting his attention back to Sakura, Kakashi smiled when he found that she was indeed awake. Momentarily ignoring the doctor in the room, he sat down next to her, slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her close so he could give her a quick kiss – though he didn't lower his mask to do so – no need for the doctor to see his face.
Sakura's cheeks heated at the public display of affection. She still wasn't used to Kakashi being so openly affectionate with her. Though she certainly wasn't complaining. She found, much to her embarrassment, that she rather enjoyed it when he did small things to express his affection.
Kakashi chuckled at Sakura's moment of embarrassment, figuring she had better get used to it soon, as he was going to make sure everyone knew they were a couple when they returned to the village. She'd once said that having an older partner had perks, such as said partner knowing a good thing when he had one. He would, therefore, be willing to go through a lot more trouble to make sure he didn't lose his 'good thing' than someone her own age might. Kakashi wholeheartedly agreed, and intended to do everything within his power to make sure she wanted to stay with him. He planned on being as affectionate as he pleased – even more so than when he'd been pretending to be her indulgent older husband for the hotel manageress. He'd come to realize that there was no point in hiding how he felt any longer, not after their discussion about their relationship. They had both expressed their desire to be together and exclusive. He no longer had to hold back.
"The doctor is here," Kakashi murmured unnecessarily to his blushing kunoichi.
Getting her reaction under control, Sakura lightly smacked her silver haired partner. "I think I can see that, Kakashi."
He laughed and kissed the tip of her nose. "Just making sure."
Sakura rolled her eyes, tired of staying in bed and wanting to just get the exam over with. Tsunade had had to leave shortly after recovering the strength she'd lost during the extensive procedure she performed to save Sakura's life, and had left strict instructions for both Kakashi and Takahiro. Sakura was not to leave the bed for any lengthy periods of time. If she moved around too much – putting stress on the improperly healed tendons – Sakura ran the risk of creating even more scar tissue and adding unnecessary complications to the surgery she would have to undergo when she returned to Konoha. The Hokage had also been very clear that Sakura was to hold off on trying to manipulate her chakra lest she risk doing even further damage to herself.
Regardless, both of these orders effectively sidelined Sakura from making any self-diagnoses, leading her to instead rely on the local doctor.
"So, Doctor, you here with good news?" Sakura asked, unable to keep the hope from her voice.
"That depends on how today's exam goes," Takahiro responded cautiously. It wouldn't do to give her any indication either way until he'd verified his findings. He genuinely did not want to witness her temper first hand.
Sakura sighed. "Okay, okay. Let's get on with it then."
Takahiro hesitated for a moment, unsure what to do about his patient's chaperone. The Copy Ninja didn't seem to want to remove himself from his kunoichi's side, never mind from the room.
Sakura caught the doctor's slight hesitation and quickly hid a smile. Poking the man next to her she tried to remedy the matter. "Kakashi, I think he's waiting for you to leave so he can do his exam."
Kakashi frowned, irrationally not wanting to leave Sakura alone with the doctor. A small part of him still felt his presence was absolutely necessary if the doctor was there, but he knew he was just being overprotective. This was no longer a life or death situation.
Sensing the reason for Kakashi's hesitation, Sakura gently encouraged him to leave. "I'm fine," she offered with a soft smile. When he still hesitated, she reached out to place a hand on his mask-covered cheek. "It's okay, I'm fine. Why don't you go finish getting dressed? I'm not going anywhere."
Kakashi sighed, knowing he was being unreasonable but still having a hard time with it.
Sakura smiled and gently placed her other hand on his other cheek to pull him in for a quick kiss. "Go get dressed. Hopefully once the doctor is done with my exam, I'll get the green-light to leave the room."
Takahiro felt himself averting his eyes from his patient and her Copy Ninja. Clearly, the pink haired woman cared just as much for her older partner as he so obviously cared for her. For some reason, the doctor couldn't quite allow himself to watch such intimate moments between the two shinobi.
As Takahiro waited with his eyes resting anywhere but on the couple, he couldn't help but reflect on the great change in the Copy Ninja that had been brought about by Sakura's recovery. Takahiro no longer felt as if he were treading a fine line every time he met with the dangerous man. He was even more pleased to see that not only had the stifling aura of a dangerous weapon barely sheathed vanished, so too had the sense of quiet desperation that had clung to the silver haired shinobi while his kunoichi was ill. What a difference having their people come to heal his woman made in the man; now he seemed almost cheerful.
The doctor was startled out of his short reverie as Kakashi slipped by him with a slight nod.
With a sigh, Takahiro made his way to the bed to start his examination, hoping he could complete it quickly and have good news for the two shinobi. Just as he was about to start, the gray dog Kakashi had previously banished from the room – the absolute angriest looking dog he'd ever laid eyes on – trotted back inside, leapt up onto the bed, and took up a position next to the pink haired woman. Surprised, Takashiro shot his patient an inquiring glance.
Unable to help herself, Sakura laughed and reached out to ruffle the angry looking dog's ears. "I'll talk to him again later. But for now, I think this is the best we're going to get."
Sakura slowly made her way – leaning heavily on Kakashi's arm – to their table at the little hotel restaurant. She'd finally been given the okay to start walking around a bit (more or less) on her own. Though, if she were to be honest, she knew she would be spending more time leaning on Kakashi than she'd like to admit. Not that he seemed to mind, as he was clearly having trouble keeping his hands to himself – even while they were in public.
A part of Sakura had to wonder if it was a result of her close call, or if Kakashi just truly enjoyed being able to handle her as intimately as he liked after spending so much time fighting those urges. Either way, she found she just didn't mind. She enjoyed his attentions – though she suspected that she may start to get sick of them if he didn't eventually dial it back a little.
Upon reaching the table, Kakashi carefully released his hold on her to chivalrously pull out her chair. Sakura smiled up at him as he gently pushed the chair closer to the table before taking his own seat.
Once they were settled, their server – a stout woman with shoulder length, dark, curly hair – appeared with menus and a happy smile. She, along with the rest of the staff, had been made aware of the two shinobi's situation – an edited version of course. The staff as a whole, after hearing their story, found the visually mismatched couple to be incredibly sweet. Sakura was certain that the hotel manageress' enjoyment of romance novels played no small role in this particular development.
While they were waiting for their meals, the hotel manageress appeared. Clearly, she'd been alerted by her staff that Sakura had finally made it out of her room.
"My dear! I'm so glad to see you up and about, finally!"
Sakura felt her cheeks heat. She'd not seen the hotel manageress since the last time she'd been at the hotel with Kakashi. For one reason or another, the manageress had left the two shinobi alone, and hadn't come to visit once Sakura was deemed out of the woods. The older woman's romantically inclined imagination had probably convinced her that Sakura and Kakashi were making up for lost time and would not welcome any interruptions – or some other similar sappy nonsense. Now that Sakura was up and about, she guessed she'd be seeing more of the woman.
The older woman smiled indulgently at Sakura's reaction, and briefly made eye-contact with Kakashi before addressing the pink haired woman. "Your young man there taking good care of you?"
Sakura blinked. Young man? She'd never heard Kakashi referred to as such. Though, upon a moment's reflection, she could see that from the older woman's perspective, the label fit.
"Yes, he has." Sakura was unable to prevent herself from shooting Kakashi a shy but affectionate glance, her cheeks coloring faintly as she reached out across the table for his hand.
Upon seeing Sakura's cheeks tint, Kakashi couldn't help but raise a hand to the back of his neck awkwardly, reaching across the table with the other to capture hers. "Eh, heh. Just following doctor's orders. Can't let anything happen to her after everything else we went through, now can I?"
The hotel manageress nodded once, decisively, and then smiled indulgently. "Good. All is as it should be then. In celebration of your recovery, please consider your dinner on the house."
Sakura's eyes widened. "Oh, but you don't have to…"
Kakashi started at the same time, "It's really not necessary…"
The manageress waved her hand dismissively, stopping both of them in their tracks. "No, no, I don't want to hear another word. Your dinner is on the house. Tonight is a night to celebrate, so I want you to enjoy yourselves." She grinned at the two of them. "If you're really concerned about it, feel free to come back to my inn anytime." She raised an eyebrow suggestively, "Perhaps on your actual honeymoon?"
Sakura felt her cheeks heat far more strongly than the last time, and upon glancing over at Kakashi, she felt slightly gratified to notice that the tops of his cheeks were also tinted with color – though, not nearly as strongly as her own.
"Oh! Um…" Sakura tried, unsure of how to take the old woman's suggestion. "I don't…"
Kakashi tried where Sakura failed, "We haven't…."
The hotel manageress laughed at their reactions. "It's just a thought." She winked. "A good one, I should say. With all that you two have been through, I should think that it would be a foregone conclusion at this point."
"Ugh, Kakashi!" Sakura swatted the man currently carrying her through the streets of Konoha on his back. "Just where are you taking me?" Sakura was unable to keep herself from shifting a little uncomfortably. It had been a long day, and she was tired.
"Too impatient," he murmured, enjoying dragging things out. "You'll see when we get there."
Sakura kept wide eyes working, ignoring the glances of anyone they happened to pass, but still unable to figure out their destination. They were in a part of the village she'd rarely spent time in.
"Kakashi," she whined quitely after several more minutes passed, not any closer to discerning their destination. "We just got back this morning, and I have my surgery tomorrow. I still don't understand why we can't spend the rest of the day in my apartment, resting like I'm supposed to be doing."
Kakashi paused, torn. They had an important appointment to keep, but Sakura was likely at her limit for the day. They had spent a long two weeks traveling back to the village, going as slowly as necessary, but still somehow managing to leave Sakura completely exhausted each evening. Her whining was likely due to the pain her legs were undoubtedly causing her – that he was causing her.
"Sakura, this is really important." Kakashi sighed. "Do you think you can hang in there for another few minutes? We really are almost there."
Sakura startled at his comment. Feeling somewhat mollified, she leaned forward against him, allowing her arms to slide back around his neck and her chin to rest on his shoulder.
"Okay, okay" she murmured into his ear. "I'm going to need some time once we get there before I'll be up for the trip back to my apartment though."
He just nodded and resumed his brisk pace.
Less than five minutes later found them at the gates of one of the large clan estate houses. Sakura could see that it was old and not in good repair. Though she could recognize the signs that work was currently underway, likely to bring the old house back to its former glory.
Before Sakura could comment on it or find a nameplate, Kakashi was turning down a side lane and heading out behind the large house.
"We're almost there, promise," he responded before she could finish her question.
A few more moments of brisk travel through overgrown gardens and a grove of what she was certain must be cherry trees brought them to a large open space far behind the dilapidated old house. Gently, Kakashi let Sakura down next to several large rocks. Further examination showed that this area had likely been part of a Zen garden with several strategically placed rock formations and low growing pine trees.
"Why don't you take a seat?" Kakashi gestured to the rocks behind her before turning away and surveying the area carefully.
"Where are we?" Sakura couldn't stop herself from asking as she gratefully complied, feeling much better now that she was no longer on his back.
Kakashi turned back to face her, a light tint of color rising to his cheeks as he awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Eh, heh, we're on the grounds of my family's estate."
"Oh, okay–" Sakura paused, realizing the significance of what he'd said. "Wait, what?!" She couldn't help but exclaim. "Why haven't I heard about this before?"
He chuckled a little at her reaction. "Eh, I haven't had anything to do with the old place for quite some time."
"I can see that!" she retorted. "Though it looks like someone is fixing it up – you decide to sell or something?"
"Not exactly? What does that mean?"
Kakashi sighed. "Let's just concentrate on one thing at a time."
Sakura raised an eyebrow. "What else is there to concentrate on?" She couldn't keep a hint of suspicion from her voice.
Kakashi laughed. "You'll see." Quickly, before Sakura could ask any other questions, he bit his thumb, preparing to summon his canine family, only to be beaten to the punch as the entire pack, save one, appeared in a puff of smoke in the large open area before he could even start the jutsu.
Sakura's eyes widened. There were far more than she realized. She could pick out groups amongst the summons. Front and center were seven ninken she recognized, Kakashi's active pack minus one. To her left she could see perhaps eight or nine elderly canines, she guessed they must be retired summons. And, to her right, she saw a dozen younger members ranging in ages from puppy to adolescent – including one that rivaled Bull for size, topped by what appeared to be a smaller version of itself.
Unperturbed, Kakashi turned back to Sakura. "Well, I guess that saved me the trouble of summoning them." He raised a hand to scratch the back of his neck. "Sakura, I'd like you to meet my pack."
Sakura's eyes darted amongst the summons one more time, searching for one in particular. Due to his size alone he should have been easy to spot. "But, Kakashi, where's Bull?"
"Bull?" He turned to look again and realized that the big black ninken hadn't appeared with everyone else.
"Yes, Bull. Y-you promised…" her voice wavered a bit as she feared that they had all been lying to her.
Pakkun quickly trotted up to her. "Aw, Boss Lady, don't you worry about Bull. He just had something to wrap up. He'll be right along."
As the small summons spoke, Bull himself appeared in front of them in a puff of smoke.
"See Boss Lady, he's fine."
Forgetting her tiredness, Sakura hastily got to her feet. "Bull! You are okay!" she cried joyfully, feeling far happier for finally getting to see the bullmastiff. Without a thought, she threw her arms around his neck to give him a big hug. "I'm so glad that you're alright!"
"Aw, Boss Lady, you're making him blush!" Pakkun chuckled as the big ninken stiffened, clearly uncertain what to do with the woman now hanging onto his neck.
After a moment of strained silence, Sakura let the bullmastiff go. "Oh! Sorry," she apologized. "I'm just so glad you're alright."
Awkwardly, Bull raised a paw to rest on Sakura's shoulder and then licked her face.
Laughing, Sakura fell back inelegantly onto her rump. Not even the fact that half of her face was now covered with saliva could dampen her happiness.
Taking that as his cue, Kakashi turned back to face the majority of his summons. "Friends, I think you know who this is. I'd like you to treat her with the same respect you treat me."
As one, all of the summons sat up and howled their agreement.
Wide-eyed once again, Sakura turned to Kakashi. "What?"
While she was looking at her lover she felt the big ninken in front of her lift her by her shirt to reposition her more comfortably on the rock she had left to greet him.
Surprised, she turned back to the bullmastiff. "Thank you, Bull." With only a little hesitation she reached out to pat his head.
Once Sakura was positioned comfortably on the rock, Bull settled himself down next to her. The canine summons she'd never seen before slowly made their way up to give her a sniff, starting with the elderly ones. With a little uncertainty, Sakura held her hand out for them, happily giving any who lingered more than a moment a quick pat on the head or ear scratch if they seemed amenable.
Kakashi watched and smiled as he introduced her to each of the summons. "I just wanted you to meet everyone," he added unnecessarily as the last of the older summons slowly cleared the way for the younger canines.
"I had no idea your pack was this big!"
He shrugged. "It's entirely voluntary on their part."
"You even have puppies!"
"Yes, well, they are mostly related in some way to my original pack." Happy that things were going well, Kakashi moved back to the rocks and took a seat next to her, slipping an arm around her absently.
"Oh, I see."
As they spoke, two frisky adolescents romped over and stopped together in front of Sakura. As one they sat and then barked sharp little yips before lunging forward for the pats and ear scratches they had seen her give to others in the pack.
"And, who are these two?" she asked with some amusement.
"Ah, that's Flora on the right and Fauna on the left."
Sakura turned and raised an eyebrow. "Flora and Fauna?"
Kakashi shrugged. "I don't name them; they name themselves."
She shook her head and continued to pet and play with the summons. "They're awfully cute."
"What?" Sakura turned once again to look at the older man.
"They're yours if you want them." He couldn't prevent the soft smile from spreading across his face.
"I don't understand. I'm not–"
Kakashi hastily interrupted her. "They're Bull's nieces. They want to live a domestic life. I promised Bull I'd find them a home if I could." He rushed his words, mostly to try and distract her from thinking about it too much.
"And they want to live with me?" Sakura asked, feeling a little bewildered.
"Yes, well, after they complete the training."
"Training? I thought you said that they wanted a domestic life?" She raised a single brow, her voice gaining a suspicious note to it.
Kakashi shrugged, hoping to play it off correctly. "I train everyone, including the pups if they want it."
"So, they'll do the training, but will then want to live a domestic life?" Sakura asked a little dubiously, beginning to wonder if Kakashi had ulterior motives. An idea suddenly struck her, pertaining to a comment he'd made months before about wanting to teach her something. She couldn't help but wonder if this was something he had planned before she'd been kidnapped.
"Yes, they changed their minds and decided that they would take the training after all when Bull returned from his last mission. They figured it would be a good idea to have the skills, just in case."
Sakura narrowed her eyes in clear suspicion. "You're not…"
"Furthest thing from my mind." Kakashi pulled her closer for what he intended to be a quick kiss, figuring he would need a bigger distraction this time. Sakura was getting uncomfortably close to his ulterior motive: making sure she was safe when he wasn't around. What better way to do that than to give her a couple of his summons?
Even without combat training, the summons would be able to inform him in the event that something happened to Sakura. They'd also know how to contact him if he was away on a mission and she needed him. It was incredibly important to Kakashi for it to be able to work both ways.
Granted, he was fairly certain that Sakura would find more practical uses for that ability. He begrudgingly looked forward to seeing Flora and Fauna appearing with grocery lists, or souvenir requests when he was out of the village – probably even reminders when she (rightly) figured he was going to be late for something important. Considering how much amusement his canine family had already been deriving from his recent forays into domestic life, he was positive that they – meaning all of them – would enjoy helping Sakura call him to task for whatever little thing her heart may desire.
Though, Kakashi did have to admit that, now that Bull wanted to stay with Sakura, she wouldn't need the extra help from Flora and Fauna. But, far be it for him to try and back out of a promise. Bull's nieces had been excited at the prospect of living with Sakura. As long as she was fine with it, Kakashi didn't see why anything else had to change.
Pakkun cleared his throat, startling the two shinobi. Hastily they pulled apart, color rising to Sakura's cheeks.
"Aren't you forgetting something, Boss?"
"Ah, right, right." Kakashi turned to Sakura again and gestured for Bull to come forward. The big ninken complied, moving from Sakura's side to the space directly in front of her. "Sakura, Bull has retired."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, focusing all of her attention on the large summons, starting to feel guilty.
Sensing where Sakura's thoughts had likely gone, Kakashi continued swiftly. "It's okay, it's not because of you. He's just decided that his last mission would be just that: his last mission."
"Oh, I see."
"He has a request."
Sakura looked to Kakashi, then to Bull, and then back to Kakashi, feeling a bit puzzled. "Okay?"
"Bull's request is to live with you."
Sakura's eyes widened and she shifted her gaze to the big ninken. Once he felt her eyes on him, Bull scooted a little closer to her. His eyes nearly level with hers, the bullmastiff gently lifted a paw to rest on her knee.
"He knows you're going to need a lot of physical therapy once you have your surgery, and he wants to help."
"Oh, oh…" she was overwhelmed and didn't know what to say. In spite of Kakashi's reassurances that he would be off duty until she could get around on her own, she'd still worried about it. She smiled and nodded before throwing her arms around Bull's neck once again.
Happily, she turned back to Kakashi, only to find him smiling softly at her with several members of his active pack now surrounding him.
As she watched the ninken vie for Kakashi's attention, she realized something. "Kakashi?"
"I'm going to need a bigger apartment, aren't I?"
"How do you mean?" Kakashi asked guardedly.
"Well, you're going to move in to help me after my surgery. Bull wants to live with me now, and you've said that Flora and Fauna want to stay with me once they've done their training as well. And if they're related to Bull…"
Kakashi laughed. "I think you're right."
Sakura smacked him. "It's not really a laughing matter you know. Don't you remember how difficult it was for me to find my last apartment?"
He laughed again and kissed her once more, pulling down his mask to do so this time. "I think I might have a solution to your problem." Kakashi responded as he finally pulled away, far too soon to her somewhat befuddled mind.
"Oh really?" Sakura asked, the stars clearing from her eyes as she suddenly began to suspect that she may have been set up.
"Have I ever shown you my family home?" Kakashi asked with what she thought was an absolutely devastating smile.
It had been a month and a half since Sakura's surgery, and she was finally allowed out of her apartment. It was nice to move around on her own again, even though her strength hadn't fully recovered. She and Kakashi were living together in her apartment while restoration work on the Hatake family home was being finished. While things were somewhat crowded, neither she nor Kakashi minded the closeness – yet. The novelty of their relationship hadn't worn off, and neither of them had fully recovered from the trauma of Sakura's kidnapping, so the tight quarters were almost welcomed.
So far, Sakura's return to the village had turned out to be one big exercise in embarrassment for the both of them. Word had traveled fast, and everyone knew what had happened. Or rather, most people knew at least a version of what had happened – that Sakura had found herself in a bad situation, and Kakashi played the part of the white knight who went to rescue her.
The response had been overwhelmingly positive, especially in the wake of the revelation of his identity as her secret admirer. However, things were starting to get difficult whenever they tried to go out and get on with their day-to-day lives.
"Sakura!" a voice called out from the crowd.
The pink haired woman in question sighed softly, much to the amusement of the jonin walking to her left.
"Hey, Sakura!" The voice called again, this time with some irritation as it closed in on the somewhat exasperated kunoichi.
With an apologetic glance at Kakashi – they were supposed to be grocery shopping – Sakura turned to greet her long-time friend. "Hey, Ino. Nice to see you." Her eyes shifted behind her blonde friend. "Oh, and Genma's with you too. Long time no see, Genma."
"I'm so glad to see you finally up and out of your apartment!" Ino shot a speculative glance at Sakura's companion. "Nice to see you, Kakashi."
Kakashi smiled and nodded his usual greeting. "Yo."
Before Genma could open his mouth and say something tactless, the blonde continued on. "You're just the girl I was looking for. Come on!" She took one of Sakura's hands and started pulling her toward a side street.
"Wait, Ino! Where are we going?" Sakura resisted, pulling back on her arm.
"We need to do a little catching up, and how better than over some light shopping?"
"But Ino, Kakashi and I were running errands. We have things we need to–"
Ino waved her hand flippantly. "Whatever it is can wait." She shot the silver haired man a glance over Sakura's shoulder that told him he'd better agree. "Isn't that right, Kakashi?"
The man in question smiled, amused. "Sure." He shrugged, amenable with tagging along. This whole going-shopping-with-a-partner thing was still new and somewhat exciting to him; he'd never in his life done anything so domestic.
Quickly, Ino tugged on Sakura's arm again, pulling them along down a side street and then another, momentarily forgetting that her friend was still recovering from major injuries and serious surgery.
"Ino! Slow down!" Sakura finally cried to get her friend to ease up the pace a little. Bull was already there to support her when Ino finally paused to take in her friend's state.
"Oh, right… sorry Forehead," Ino apologized with a hint of a blush. She'd forgotten for a moment that Sakura had only just been given the green-light to leave the apartment, not to go tearing down the street at a fast pace.
"It's okay, Pig," Sakura responded as she continued to rest against the big black ninken. She paused, taking a moment to carefully heal the damage done to her still healing Achilles' tendons. She'd just been cleared to start manipulating chakra again, having spent the past month or so doing chakra re-building exercises. Tsunade had finally been pleased enough with her progress to allow her to start using chakra for small jutsu. "Just where are you taking us?"
Ino grinned and shot a look over Sakura's shoulder to the two men who had just caught up to them. Kakashi and Genma had been ambling along far behind the two women to give them a bit of privacy. "You'll see. We're almost there." She took another look at Sakura and frowned. "You okay to walk a little further?"
Having regained her composure after finishing the quick patch job on her still-delicate tendons, Sakura nodded. "Sure, I've got Bull if I need him."
"What, Kakashi not enough?" Ino asked, sending a bit of a teasing sideways glance at the silver haired man in question.
Sakura laughed. "I think he's spent enough time carrying me around. So I've got Bull to lend a hand when necessary."
"Right, right." Ino couldn't help but shoot a dubious look at the large ninken before shrugging. Sakura could probably ride him if things became too much for her to handle.
Much more slowly now, the small group continued to make their way down the side street until they hit an intersection. Ino stopped.
"Right. You two" – she nodded at Genma and Kakashi, who had been having a quiet conversation as they followed their kunoichi – "over there. We'll probably be a while."
With that said, Ino once again started pulling Sakura along the street and into one of the shops.
"Ino, what?" They'd moved too quickly for Sakura to be able to make out the name of the store as they entered.
"Good afternoon, ladies," a shop attendant greeted them as soon as they entered the shop. "Let me know if I can help you find anything."
Sakura felt her cheeks heat as she realized just which shop they'd entered– Kunoichi's Secret.
Sensing that the salesperson may try to say something foolish about allowing the very large ninken into the close confines of the shop, Ino hurriedly interjected. "My friend here is looking for something to spice up her love life. She's been confined to a bed for so long that she's thoroughly sick of all of her intimate apparel."
"Ino!" Sakura couldn't help but exclaim, a dark flush rising to her cheeks.
The blonde woman laughed. "It's true, isn't it?"
Sakura felt her cheeks heat even more as she pretended to give the question some thought. "Well… I'm certainly tired of the same things I've been wearing for the past few months…"
"There you go then. We need a full new wardrobe of sexy night attire for you."
"Sexy? Why does it have to be sexy?"
Ino shot her an incredulous glance. "Seriously? You actually have to ask that?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You've got yourself a new man, Forehead! You've got to treat him right in the beginning!"
Sakura shook her head. "Of course I'm going to treat him right – the whole time, not just in the beginning, you know."
"Never mind that then. What's his taste like? We should make sure to get at least one or two things especially for him, you know." Ino already had her hand out, reaching for the nearest rack.
"Ino…" Sakura growled.
"What?" She selected a few things in Sakura's size from the rack and turned to the saleswoman. "Do you have more like these? She looks best in red, white, silver and black." Ino turned her attention back to her friend. "So, what is his taste? I'd imagine it must be pretty kinky, considering how much he enjoys Icha Icha…" she trailed off in thought for a moment before sighing. "It's too bad that Jiraiya hasn't licensed out the rights to make and distribute his designs. I bet he'd make a mint if he did!"
"I'm just saying! You've got to know by now what Kakashi likes. So, spill – it'll make it far easier for us to outfit you right the first time around if we know what your man likes."
The sales attendant returned with several bra and panty sets, in addition to an assortment of slips and an armload of negligees. "That's true," the attendant agreed. "If we don't know what he likes, then how can we find you the right things to wear?"
Ino smiled at the large selection the saleswoman had produced in such a short amount of time, thanking the industrious clerk.
Sakura sighed. Realizing that she wasn't going to get around this, she decided to try for the truth. "Ino, it doesn't matter what I'm wearing. He likes me in whatever."
The blonde just raised a skeptical eyebrow and exchanged a knowing look with the saleswoman. "Yeah, sure he does."
"No, really – it doesn't matter what I'm wearing."
Ino rolled her eyes. "Right. When you're ready to leave the land of denial, I'll be right here to help you pick out some lingerie." She reached out to the selection the sales clerk had laid out over one of the sales fixtures, going through each item and approving and rejecting things as she went. Once through the pile, she picked up the approved pile and turned to eye her friend again. "C'mon, let's get you into a dressing room."
The two kunoichi made their way back to the fitting rooms, leaving the saleswoman to return Ino's rejected selections to their proper places on the sales floor.
Sakura paused before entering the dressing room. "Seriously, Ino. He's seen me at my absolute worst –far, far, far worse than you can even imagine…" she trailed off, not wanting to think about it too much. "Believe me. It doesn't matter what I wear."
Ino stared at her friend for a moment, having not really thought about the practical aspects of Sakura's awful ordeal. Kakashi was probably just happy that she was alive... "I'm sorry Forehead. That was insensitive of me."
Sakura took a deep breath and let it out slowly, reaching down to pat the ever present Bull while she regained her composure. "It's okay. You're right though, I do need new pyjamas. I never want to see the ones I've been wearing again. I just want comfortable for now, though. I'll still be spending more time in bed or on the couch than I really want to." She felt her cheeks tint a little. "I'm not really up for much else, anyway."
Ino nodded, disappointed but understanding that Sakura's current needs were different than her own.
Sensing her friend's disappointment, Sakura hurried to add something to make the shopping trip at least a little more fun for her more adventurous friend. "That doesn't mean I can't also pick up some fun things for special occasions..." She paused in thought for a moment. "And I did miss buying Kakashi a birthday present since I couldn't leave the apartment until recently." Her cheeks heated. "Not that he seemed to mind all that much."
Her blonde friend laughed, having no trouble imagining what Sakura had 'given' Kakashi for his birthday. Granted, Ino had no idea that Sakura already had two Icha Icha inspired outfits in her closet which did quite nicely in a pinch – something which Sakura had no plans of ever telling her.
"Still," Sakura interrupted her friend's raucous laughter, her cheeks burning, "I probably should get at least one thing just for him."
Ino couldn't prevent the grin from spreading across her face. "Well then, let's get to trying things on! How much of your current wardrobe do you think you'll keep?"
Sakura considered the question as she – with only slight reluctance – allowed herself to be pushed into the fitting room with the items Ino had selected for her. The door closed before she could respond, effectively shutting Bull out of the small dressing chamber. With a sigh, the patient ninken took up a stance next to the fitting room, aware that – even if Ino had allowed it – there was no way he'd fit inside there with Sakura. After a moment's further thought, the bullmastiff rose and ambled off down the rows of sales racks.
"Hardly anything, I think." Sakura called from behind the closed door. "Oh! Except for that lovely slip!"
The door opened again before she had even had a chance to get herself situated. "Lovely slip?"
Sakura felt her cheeks heat as she turned away to hang up the clothing she was to try on. "Well… you know the hotel manageress who thought Kakashi and I were married?"
Ino chuckled, unable to prevent the wide smile from appearing on her face. "How could I forget?"
"Well, you know how she kind of forced Kakashi into buying me that beautiful dressing gown?" Reluctantly she turned to face her friend. "Actually, now that I think of it, Kakashi does like to see me wearing that robe, probably because he gave it to me…" Sakura trailed off, consciously deciding not to mention the cherry pyjama set that Kakashi had also given her. He'd clearlyenjoyed seeing her in that as well, though he probably wouldn't admit to it.
"Oh, yes… that makes sense… sort of." Ino paused, lost in thought. That Kakashi liked seeing Sakura in things he'd given her didn't particularly help their current mission. Instead, her mind wandered to Sakura's comment about the robe. "You know, I'm still a little jealous of that gorgeous robe…" Ino gazed off into space as she remembered the old woman's skillful needlework.
Sakura laughed. "That's easily fixed, you know. Just go with Genma. I'm sure the hotel manageress will be more than happy to manipulate Genma into buying you one." She paused for a moment in thought. "Hmm, I think she was working on something blue while I was there. And, if your man needs any persuading, you can just let it drop that Kakashi already bought one for me…"
Ino chuckled, knowing how competitive Genma could get, especially where Kakashi was concerned. It would almost be too easy if she cared to put the effort into it. Pulling her mind from that pleasant thought, she returned to their current topic of discussion. "So, what about that robe? Of course, you'll keep that."
Sakura nodded. "Of course. But that's not all. The hotel manageress cornered me when we were getting ready to leave and gave me a parting gift."
Ino's eyes widened. "Oh, don't tell me…."
"Yes! She gave me a matching slip to wear under it. Same design, only with the colors shifted. It's a very pale silver with pink embroidery, and absolutely stunning."
"Oh, you've got to show me the next time I'm at your place." She shot her friend a sideways glance. "So, have you worn it for him yet?"
Sakura felt her cheeks heat again. "No… not yet…"
"Waiting for a certain special occasion?"
"N-no, not exactly."
Ino laughed. "Sure, sure…"
"No, really. I wanted to save it for when I'm completely recovered…"
"Uh-huh, sure you do."
Just as the blonde woman started to close the dressing room door again, Bull reappeared with a hanger held gently in his teeth – his lips, and therefore, saliva being carefully kept away from his prize. Silently he sat in front of the dressing room and stretched his head out to Sakura.
"What's this Bull?" she asked as she reached for the garment the big ninken had found somewhere within the store.
The bullmastiff's tail thumped briefly on the floor, and he huffed quietly with a canine smile once she'd taken the hanger from him.
Inquisitively, Sakura held up the garments in question. It was what appeared to be the most comfortable set of pyjamas she'd ever had the pleasure of handling – a pair of modestly cut pants paired with a not too low-cut short sleeved shirt, both made from the softest of cotton. The pants were printed with little dogs on a light green background. The shirt was white with one large, black dog wrapping around the side from the front to the back.
Ino just stared unbelievingly at the ninken. "How'd he do that?"
"Do what?" Sakura asked with some confusion. She was incredibly pleased with what Bull had managed to find for her.
"He found what is probably the least sexy pair of pyjamas in the entire shop!"
Sakura couldn't help but laugh. "But they're perfect!" She reached out to scratch her service ninken's ears. "Thank you, Bull! Good job!"
Ino only raised her hands to the air in silent entreaty. "Does this mean no fun stuff?"
Sakura felt her cheeks heat a little. "Find me a few more like this" – she gestured to Bull's find – "and then we can check out the fun stuff."
Ino laughed and signaled the saleswoman, guessing she would know where to find similar items. "Come on, start trying some of those on to see what works and doesn't. I'm sure we can find plenty of things for you and for Kakashi."
"C'mon Kakashi, there's a coffee shop on the corner."
The silver haired jonin raised an inquisitive eyebrow at his friend.
Genma sighed. "Sometimes she wants me with her, and others she doesn't." He shrugged. "I've learned that it's in my best interest to just agree and wait for her at the coffee shop."
"The coffee shop? Not the pub?" Kakashi gestured to the small pub on the opposite street corner.
Genma sighed again. "Nope. I tried that the first time and was consequently a little less than diplomatic when she asked for my opinion on something…" He raised a hand to awkwardly rub the back of his neck. "I'm not going to make that mistake again."
Kakashi laughed. Genma had certainly come a long way since the last time they'd sat down to talk.
The two men ordered coffee in companionable silence, then made their way to one of the small tables outside. They chose a spot away from the foot traffic on the sidewalk, but still with a clear view of the entrance of Kunoichi's Secret.
Kakashi had to admit that he wasn't all that upset to have his shopping trip interrupted, especially now that he knew just where Ino wanted to shop with Sakura. It was sure to be a productive trip, if nothing else. And he was absolutely certain that Ino would make sure Sakura bought at least one thing he would probably appreciate and which Sakura might not have gotten on her own. Especially since Sakura wasn't well enough to celebrate his birthday.
Not that he blamed her or that he particularly minded. Since she couldn't leave the apartment to go shopping for him, Sakura had, instead, given him another little homemade booklet of coupons. This time she offered the same sorts of services she had in the past, but with the added extra of allowing him to choose for her to wear either the red, white and silver Icha Icha dress or the sexy white nurse's uniform. Sakura had also included a few other things of a more intimate nature that he was sure to enjoy. Needless to say, he'd been pleased beyond words and was already looking forward to redeeming them.
Though, to be fair, he honestly didn't care what Sakura wore. He liked her in pretty much anything. He appreciated her rather than the clothes she was wearing. She could make a burlap sack the sexiest thing ever to grace a woman's body, as far as he was concerned. Cliché as it might be, it still didn't diminish the truth he found in the sentiment.
Though, if Kakashi were to be absolutely honest, he especially enjoyed seeing her wear the things he'd given her. He never failed to experience a little thrill each time she wore the hair combs he'd gifted her, or the expensive dressing gown he'd gotten from the little inn. Granted, those thrills paled in comparison to the sense of pleasure he felt when he saw her in his family heirlooms.
Kakashi hastily pulled his thoughts from Sakura and the wonderful things she was likely trying on in the famous lingerie shop. He was certain that his conversation with Genma was going to be a tricky one, and he needed to focus all of his attention on it.
Once he and Genma were situated Kakashi decided to go on the offensive. "So, how are things going with Ino?"
Genma smiled. "Ah, the lovely Ino. I'm determined to keep her this time around."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "You do know that she's been toying with you, don't you?"
Genma sighed. "Yes, took me an embarrassingly long time to figure that one out. But... I'm okay with it. Eventually, she'll realize that I'm not going to go wandering off like the last time." He ducked his head a little at his past stupidity. "I certainly deserve it at any rate."
Kakashi chuckled. "I see. Good for you then." He paused to take a quick sip of his coffee. "Happy?" he asked idly, though it was clear that his friend was.
Genma laughed and kicked back in his chair, stretching his arms above his head. The ever-present senbon in his mouth flicked over from one side to the other as a wide smile stretched across his face. "Very."
"Glad to hear it."
After a moment of silence-filled coffee drinking, Genma realized that Kakashi wasn't going to share unless prompted to do so. "So, you and Sakura?"
"Yes? What about us?" Kakashi responded somewhat guardedly. He hadn't told Genma the whole story, though he suspected that the special jonin already knew. Most shinobi knew more than what was circulated as the cover story for Sakura's abduction.
Genma shot Kakashi a look from the corner of his eye, trying to gauge how much he could get out of his usually reticent friend. "I know that wasn't easy, you know."
"Everything going to be okay?"
"Is that all you're going to tell me?"
Kakashi paused for a moment, his coffee cup still raised for a sip, seriously considering the question. Genma was one of his oldest friends. He probably deserved to hear more, at least from him rather than from the mighty Konoha gossip mill.
"I wouldn't wish that experience on my worst enemy." He shifted his gaze to his coffee cup. "But I'd do it all again in a heartbeat if I had to."
Surprised that his friend had actually elaborated, if only a little, Genma reached out to clap the younger man on the shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Kakashi shook his head. "Don't be. The end results are more than worth it. As I said, I'd do it all again if I had to."
Genma grinned. "I'm happy for you then."
Sakura blinked her eyes groggily, unsure what had disturbed her sleep. Her foggy mind worked through a list of possibilities. It was the middle of the night, she was home, in her own bed… she cursed silently as she heard another sound and realized what had awoken her.
Suddenly, Sakura's bedroom door flew open, hitting the wall with a sharp crack, to reveal Naruto and a rather reluctant Sasuke standing in her hall. Previous experience taught them not to actually enter her bedroom, or turn on the lights when visiting in the middle of the night. Instead, they would linger in her hall and speak into her darkened room.
"Sakura! We're back!" Naruto cried happily as Sasuke grabbed the collar of the blonde man's shirt, preventing him from entering Sakura's room. Naruto often broke Sakura's rules when paying visits to her apartment, and usually ended up feeling the brunt of her anger as a result.
"Ugh. Naruto… 'less yer dyin', an' I don' think y'are" – Sakura knew that if it was serious, both Naruto and Sasuke would already be in her room shaking her awake – "come back in the mornin,'" the pink haired woman muttered sleepily before yawning widely. She smiled a little to herself as she felt Kakashi shift beside her, his hand slipping around her waist to pull her closer to him. Sakura had to wonder whether the action had more to do with asserting possession or hiding his bare face. Regardless of his motive, the presence of their former teammates had obviously pulled him from the world of slumber as well.
"Aw, come on Sakura! We can go out and get break–" Naruto paused for a moment as he finally noticed something out of place. "Hey… wait a minute. Is there someone in there with you?"
Sasuke rolled his eyes and tightened his grip on his teammate's shirt. He had already noticed the presence in Sakura's bed. While Sasuke wasn't as shocked as he could be, he still found it a little surprising. Though, as he reflected on it, many things suddenly snapped into place… And he really couldn't find anything wrong with it. After all, Kakashi was one of the best shinobi in the village, and he had on many occasions proved how much he cared for his teammates, Sakura obviously amongst them. She could do far worse in Sasuke's opinion.
"What the hell!? Kakashi must be sleeping on the job or something!" Naruto exclaimed with confusion and growing anger.
Sasuke snorted and stayed silent, wondering how Sakura would handle the situation, and loath to step in to mediate himself.
"What are you talking about Naruto?" Sakura asked with more than a little annoyance. She had hoped that her unobservant teammate wouldn't notice the fact that their former sensei was in bed with her. She had wanted to have the chance to sit Naruto down and tell him properly. This, however, was likely to get messy if she couldn't get things under control quickly.
"Kakashi! He was supposed to be watching over you while we were gone! And now look at you, in bed with some cowardly loser." Naruto made another aborted lunge for Sakura's bed. "He's probably not even man enough to tell Sasuke an' me himself. Damn it! Kakashi's really screwed it up this time… Where is he? I bet he's off reading those stupid little books of his…"
"Naruto, for the last time, who ends up in my bed isn't any of your business!" Sakura growled, doing her best to ignore Kakashi's quiet laughter – he was clearly enjoying the situation. "Come back later, after the sun is up and you've come to your senses."
"You're wrong Sakura. If he isn't man enough to face me an' Sasuke then he isn't good enough for you." Naruto shook his head angrily and almost whined, "You deserve better than scum like him!"
The blonde man made another lunge for Sakura's bed, but Sasuke tightened his grip on Naruto's shirt. He hoped Sakura and Kakashi would sort things out soon, as the shirt he was holding on to was starting to rip.
Sakura sighed in exasperation and opened her mouth to respond, but Kakashi finally decided to throw his two cents in. Slowly he shifted himself into a semi-upright position, carefully keeping Sakura between his bare face and their former teammates.
"Naruto I'll be more than happy to spar with you after lunch. Right now I have other plans." Kakashi visibly tightened his grip on Sakura, enough to make what those plans might be obvious to the now shocked younger man.
"K-Kakashi?" Naruto asked once he was able to pick his jaw up off the ground. "What are you…"
Sasuke sighed and rolled his eyes. He'd had enough. "Come on Naruto. You can play with Kakashi later. As he said, he'll be happy to spar with you after lunch."
When Naruto didn't move, Sasuke tugged on the blonde man's shirt to get him going, pulling him away and out of the apartment.
"Bu-but Sasuke! Sakura's sleeping with Kakashi!" Naruto could do nothing to hide the tones of shock and horror from his voice.
"With the way you've been acting lately, what do you expect?" Sasuke answered, long-suffering patience obviously clear in his tone.
"What do you mean?" the Uzumaki nearly whined.
"Can you think of anyone else in the village who would willingly step up to a fight with either of us for Sakura?" the Uchiha asked patiently.
"Well, no…" Naruto stated uncertainly.
"Exactly. Now let's go."
Their voices faded as they exited the apartment, greeting Bull on their way out, and Sakura couldn't help but laugh.
She turned to face Kakashi. "That went better than I thought it would…"
"Hmm… I suppose…" the older man agreed thoughtfully. "Though, now I'm going to have to go a couple rounds with Naruto this afternoon…"
"What's wrong with that?" Sakura frowned a little, If he wasn't willing to spar with Naruto for her after everything else they'd been through…
"Aside from the fact that I had other plans for the afternoon?" he asked with a smirk.
"Kakashi!" she smacked him lightly, her cheeks flushing a little – she didn't have to wonder what those plans were. "I think we have plenty of time for that…"
He grinned and asked hopefully, "Like now?"
She laughed, knowing that no matter how much time they spent together he would always want more… and, she would always be happy to give it to him.
"Don't you even start!" Tsunade cut Kakashi off before he could voice his opinion. "I don't care that you still have unused leave time." She held up a hand to forestall the anticipated response. "You're going back on active duty starting now with this–" she picked a scroll up from her desk and gestured with it, "–mission. You'll only be gone a day or two at the most if you hustle."
Kakashi narrowed his eye in annoyance. "I still have a few months of leave left. I believe you approved the use of my time. I don't think you can go back on that now unless it's a mission of vital importance."
"Yes, I did approve your time off," Tsunade agreed with a nod. "However, I did not anticipate you taking all of your leave time now."
Kakashi frowned. "When else would I take it?" He'd truly been enjoying his time with Sakura, as she'd not yet been cleared to return to work to the hospital, never mind to active mission status. They'd been spending a lot of time together, either at her place or at the construction site that would be their future home.
Tsunade shot him an incredulous glance. "Seriously? You haven't thought of any other big life events that might require you to take some time off?" She held Kakashi's gaze, wondering how long it would take him to catch on to some fairly obvious reasons he might want to save some leave time.
Kakashi shook his head, too irritated to think it through.
"You haven't discussed this with Sakura, I take it?"
"Sakura. You haven't brought up blowing through all your leave time now with her, have you?"
He furrowed his brow. "No. I'm fairly sure she wouldn't care one way or the other. It is my time to take, after all."
Tsunade raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Oh, really?"
"You can't think of any big, life-altering events that might require, oh, I don't know, say a lot of sleepless nights?"
Kakashi couldn't stop a faint trace of color from rising to his cheeks. If she was hinting at what usually happened after a wedding, they certainly hadn't waited, and neither of them was suffering any particularly ill effects from those sleepless nights.
Tsunade sighed and raised her hand to her forehead. "Not that you idiot! What comes after that!"
For a moment Kakashi's expression remained puzzled before his eye widened, understanding dawning. "WHAT?! When? Why? HOW?!"
"Not now! But at the rate you two are going, it's bound to happen sooner rather than later. And, when it does, Sakura will kill you if you're on active duty for those first few months."
Sakura sighed as she made her way with Bull into the hospital. They entered through the back door, as she wasn't quite back to work yet and didn't want to deal with the welcome she'd likely receive when she finally was.
She was bored. Kakashi had resumed taking missions a few weeks ago. Though Tsunade had been mindful of their situation and was limiting Kakashi to short missions which had him out of the village for less than three days at a time, Sakura was still feeling his absence keenly. Even with Bull around full-time and several of Kakashi's pack popping by fairly regularly, she found the long hours alone at home more lonely than she had expected. Most of her friends were working, so no one was usually around during the day, and by the evenings she was typically too tired to go out with them.
Slowly, with the occasional aid of Bull, Sakura made her way to her office. She had vague plans to spend a little time there rearranging her files and reorganizing things. Upon entering the small room, her eyes automatically went to her desk – why, she couldn't quite guess. Kakashi had already outed himself as her 'secret admirer,' and the two of them had far more serious things going on now. Far more serious than such silly antics, to be sure.
Sakura's eyes widened as she noticed that there was indeed something out of place on her desk. As quickly as she could, she made her way to it. Cautiously she reached out and lifted the small box – clearly for jewelry – from its place hidden amongst her papers. Her heart beat faster as she realized that the small box could really only hold one thing.
Before opening it to confirm her suspicions, Sakura took a moment to search her desk for one of the usual accompanying notes. Upon finding none, she took a deep breath and opened the box.
Sakura was not disappointed. As expected, it contained a ring. Cautiously, she lifted the silver band from the box, a scrap of paper slipping out from under the ring. Only one word was written on the paper– 'Please?' with an incredibly happy smiley face with a slash through its left eye on the other side.
Unable to prevent the smile from forming on her lips, Sakura slipped the ring on without a second thought, unsurprised to find that it fit her perfectly. She took a moment to examine it. As she expected, it had slightly raised flowers all the way around it, matching both her armband and the beautiful silver torc Kakashi had already given to her.
Absently, Sakura wondered what the ring did. This time she would wait for his return rather than asking her mentor. She suspected that she'd want Kakashi to tell her.
Kakashi hurried back to their apartment. His last mission had taken two days longer than he'd anticipated – nothing serious, just an uncooperative mark – and he was itching to see how Sakura reacted to receiving his latest gift.
Kakashi was fairly certain she'd find it while he was away; this was the longest mission Tsunade had assigned him since his return to active status, and he figured Sakura would get bored without him around to keep her company. He could only assume that she would go to the hospital looking for something to do. Either that, or some well-meaning friend might point her in that direction once word of his latest offering got around.
Due to the nature of his most recent gift, Kakashi was fairly certain the news would have spread around the village like wildfire as soon as it was noticed. He only hoped that no one would spoil the surprise before Sakura could discover it for herself.
Suddenly finding that he needed to see her as soon as possible, Kakashi hastily climbed up to Sakura's balcony, not wanting to deal with the security on the inside of the building.
Before entering, he took a minute to observe. Sakura was home, as expected, and already in the kitchen, apparently making dinner. From where he was positioned, he couldn't tell if she was wearing his latest gift.
Unable to stand the suspense any longer, Kakashi opened the unlocked door and made his entrance.
Sakura turned, having already sensed him out on the balcony, and smiled. "Welcome back!"
Incapable of stopping himself – not that he wanted to – Kakashi hastily closed the gap between them. He pulled down his mask as he moved and tugged her into his arms for what he had intended to be a quick, mostly chaste kiss. After all, he needed to know if she was wearing his ring.
A few breathless moments later, Kakashi finally managed to pull away from her lips. If that was the welcome home he'd get after being away for only a few short days, he had to wonder what sort of welcome he'd receive when he returned from something longer.
Taking another moment to study the woman in his arms, he smiled as she shyly held up her left hand for him to see. Unable to stop himself, Kakashi kissed Sakura again. He had no idea how happy such a simple thing could make him – how happy she could make him.
"So," Sakura started, still mostly breathless but afraid if she didn't get her question in then, she might not get it in at all. She could already tell that dinner would likely be ruined, but knew neither one of them would care. Food was the last thing on her mind at that moment. "What does it do?"
"It makes me the happiest man in Konoha."
"Kakashi!" She mock swatted him as she felt color rush to her cheeks.
"What?" he asked with an impish grin. "It's true."
When Sakura could get her blush under control, she asked, "But, really, Kakashi, what does it do?"
"Hmm…" He pulled her closer to him absently as he considered his words carefully. "Well, it also has the added bonus of making you a Hatake."
"Kakashi!" she exclaimed, swatting him again to hide her continued embarrassment.
He laughed. "All right, all right. As long as you're wearing it, I will always be able to find you."
Sakura's cheeks heated again as she once again realized just how much he cared.
He took a moment to enjoy her reaction, wondering how long it would take for her to work out that once he started wearing his, the connection would work both ways. They would never be able to lose each other again.